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Although evidence shows bowel cancer screening saves lives, Australians were less likely to take up their invitation to screen in the Australian Government's free National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) in 2011-12 compared to the previous 3 years, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, National Bowel Cancer Screening Program: July 2011-June 2012 monitoring report, shows that about 35% of the 930,000 people invited to take part in the NBCSP between July 2011 and June 2012 returned a completed bowel cancer screening test for analysis.

'This participation rate is slightly lower than the 38% we recorded in our previous monitoring report, which covered those invited to screen from July 2008 to June 2011,' said AIHW spokesperson Lisa McGlynn

'The decline was seen across all three target age groups (50, 55 and 65 year olds).'

The screening test aims to detect early signs of bowel abnormalities that require further medical assessment. About 22,500 participants (7%) who returned a completed screening test were encouraged to visit their primary health care practitioner for such an assessment. Of these, 72% were recorded as having had a follow-up colonoscopy to investigate the screening finding-a slightly higher rate of colonoscopy than recorded in the previous report.

One in 32 people who had a colonoscopy were diagnosed with a confirmed or suspected cancer (404 participants), and advanced adenomas (benign growths that have the potential to become cancerous) were found in a further 857 participants.

'As in previous years, women were more likely to screen than men, despite men having higher rates of bowel cancers, and higher overall bowel cancer incidence and mortality,' Ms McGlynn said.

Additionally, screening test results from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people who lived in Regional and Remote regions, and people who lived in areas of lower socioeconomic status, indicated they were more likely to require further assessment, yet these people had lower rates of follow-up colonoscopies.

The NBCSP aims to reduce the number of cases of bowel cancer and related deaths in Australia through screening to detect cancers and pre-cancerous lesions in their early stages, when treatment is most effective.

From July 2013, the program is being expanded to add those turning 60 to the existing target ages.

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, 9 July 2013

Further information: Lisa McGlynn, tel. (02) 6244 1168, mob. 0408 204 164

Full report: National Bowel Cancer Screening Program: July 2011-June 2012 monitoring report