Bowel cancer screening program participation rates rising

People are participating in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program at a higher rate, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Of the 1.4 million people aged 50, 55, 60 or 65 invited to screen between July 2013 and June 2014, 36% returned a completed bowel cancer screening kit for analysis. This overall participation rate was higher than the participation rate of 33.4% in the previous year.

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program aims to reduce illness and deaths from bowel cancer by actively recruiting and screening its target population for early detection or prevention of the disease. Up to 90% of bowel cancers detected early can be successfully treated.

'The increase in participation last year can mainly be attributed to the start of a second round of invitations for 55 and 60 year olds who participated 5 years earlier, and had high rates of re-participation-more than 70%,' said AIHW spokesperson Justin Harvey.

Around 510,000 people participated in 2013-14, and of those about 38,000 participants, or 7.5%, had a positive screening result warranting further investigation.

'These people were encouraged to follow up this result by visiting their GP for referral to further investigative testing-usually a colonoscopy,' Mr Harvey said.

'Of those with a positive screening result, 68% had a follow-up colonoscopy recorded, and of those who had a colonoscopy about 1 in 25 (748 participants) had confirmed or suspected bowel cancer.'

'Advanced adenomas, benign growths that have the potential to become cancerous, were found in a further 1,691 participants (1 in 11 colonoscopies). Removing these is likely to lower the risk of future bowel cancers in these patients,' Mr Harvey said.

The AIHW report, National Bowel Cancer Screening Program Monitoring report 2013-14, also found that:

  • the participation rate for women (38.5%) was higher than that for men (33.6%)
  • men had higher rates of screen-detected bowel cancers
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander invitees, invitees who lived in Regional and remote regions, and invitees who lived in areas of greater socioeconomic disadvantage, continued to have lower rates of participation, higher rates of positive screening results, and lower rates of follow‑up colonoscopies.

Since the program started in August 2006, over 2.5 million screening kits have been tested, with about 4,000 confirmed or suspected cancers, and over 12,000 advanced adenomas, detected.

Bowel cancer accounts for about 13% of all invasive cancers diagnosed in Australia, making it the second most-commonly-diagnosed cancer in Australia after prostate cancer. It also accounts for 9% of all deaths from invasive cancers, second only to lung cancer.

'Improved participation is encouraging as recent AIHW research has shown that, on average, bowel cancers detected through the NBCSP  were less advanced, and resulted in a lower risk of bowel cancer death,' said Mr Harvey.

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, 22 June 2015

Further information: Mr Justin Harvey, AIHW, tel. 02 6249 5057; mob. 0450 677 562