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Just under 40% of eligible Australians took part in the latest phase of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP), according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, National Bowel Cancer Screening Program monitoring report: phase 2, July 2008 – June 2011, shows that of the 2.1 million people invited in Phase 2 of the NBCSP, around 800,000 people, or 38%, returned a completed screening kit for analysis.

For the first time, people turning 50 were invited to participate in the screening program.  This group recorded the lowest level of participation, compared with those aged 55 and 65.

The NBCSP aims to reduce bowel cancer in Australia through screening to detect pre-cancerous lesions and cancers in their early stages, when treatment will be most successful.

‘Bowel cancer may be present for many years before symptoms appear, by which time the cancer may have reached a relatively advanced stage. That is why a screening program that can detect early signs of a bowel abnormality that may require further assessment is valuable,’ said AIHW spokesperson Ms Christine Sturrock.

Of the 800,000 participants who returned a valid screening test, around 60,000, or 1 in 13, were found to require further assessment, and encouraged to follow up with their GP to have a colonoscopy.

‘Of these, we know at least 71% went on to have a colonoscopy,’ Ms Sturrock said.

One in 11 colonoscopies performed as a follow-up to screening found advanced adenomas (benign growths that have the potential to become cancerous). One in 33 colonoscopies identified a confirmed or suspected cancer.

‘From the results available, almost 80% of bowel cancers subsequently removed were in the early stages of cancer spread,’ Ms Sturrock said.

Women were more likely to participate in the screening program than men, even though men are more likely to be diagnosed with, and die from, bowel cancer.

Groups with a higher level of results requiring further assessment included Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people who spoke a language other than English at home, and those living in Inner regional, Outer regional, or lower socioeconomic status areas. Yet these groups had lower rates of follow-up colonoscopies.

The AIHW is a major national agency set up by the Australian Government to provide reliable, regular and relevant information and statistics on Australia’s health and welfare.

Canberra, 2 March 2012

Further information: Ms Chris Sturrock, AIHW, tel. (02) 6244 1118, mob. 0407 915 851

View the full report online: National Bowel Cancer Screening Program monitoring report: phase 2, July 2008 – June 2011