Summary

Data updates

This report presents the latest available activity and participation data for the 3 cancer screening programs:

  • Activity data are presented to December 2021 for cervical and bowel cancer screening and for the first time, to December 2020 for breast cancer screening activity data. Activity data are updated quarterly and were last updated on this page in December 2021.
  • Participation data are presented to 2018–2020 for the National Cervical Screening Program, 2019–2020 for BreastScreen Australia, and 2018–2019 for the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. Participation data for breast cancer screening and cervical cancer screening were last updated in December 2021 and are updated in this release for specific geographies. Participation data for bowel cancer screening were last updated in June 2021.

What are Australia’s cancer screening programs?

Cancer is one of the leading causes of illness and death in Australia. Some cancers can be detected through screening, which allows for early detection, intervention and treatment.

Australia has 3 national cancer screening programs:

  • BreastScreen Australia
  • National Cervical Screening Program (NCSP)
  • National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP).

These programs offer a screening test to people in defined target groups to test for signs of cancer or pre-cancerous conditions.

How do we measure the use of cancer screening programs?

Two key measures of the use of cancer screening programs in this report are activity and participation.

Activity

Activity data are counts of events, such as the number of screening tests conducted.

Activity data show the volume of work undertaken by the cancer screening programs.

Activity data can be made available quickly, which means recent trends can be identified. Knowing how many tests are conducted helps services and policy makers understand demand and plan for the future.

Activity data count events rather than people. A person may be counted more than once if they complete more than one screening test during the time period.

 

 

 

 

Participation

Participation is the proportion of eligible or invited people who completed a screening test.

Participation data help us to know the extent to which target groups are being reached, and can inform strategies to improve screening rates among these groups of people.

Participation is usually measured over a longer period of time than activity data (2 years or 5 years, in line with the recommended screening interval for each program), so the results take more time to become available.

Each person is counted only once for each program.

High rates of participation produce the greatest population benefits in terms of reducing illness and death from these cancers (see the AIHW report Analysis of cancer outcomes and screening behaviour for national cancer screening programs in Australia).

Activity: latest results

Bowel cancer screening (NBCSP):

  • 577,500 invitations to participate were sent from the NBCSP in the December quarter 2021.
  • 17.5% of invitations for bowel screening in 2021 were sent in the December quarter.
  • 310,000 bowel screening kits were returned in the December quarter 2021.
  • 24% of bowel screening kits in 2021 were returned in the December quarter 2021.​

BreastScreen Australia:

  • 230,000 screening mammograms for women aged 50–74 were performed in the December quarter 2020.
  • 27% of screening mammograms for women aged 50–74 in 2020 were performed in the December quarter 2020.
  • The June quarter 2020 had the lowest number of screening mammograms performed for women aged 50–74 compared to quarters in all other years.

Cervical screening (NCSP):

  • 112,000 cervical screening tests were performed in the December quarter 2021.
  • 22% of cervical screening tests in 2021 were performed in the December quarter 2021.

Note that activity data are counts of events rather than people.

For information about the impact of COVID-19 on Australia’s cancer screening programs in 2020, see the AIHW report Cancer screening and COVID-19 in Australia.

Participation: latest results

Bowel cancer screening (NBCSP):

  • Almost 2.5 million of the 5.7 million people aged 50­–74 who were invited to screen in 2018–2019 participated.
  • This was a participation rate of 43.5%.
  • Participation was higher among women (45.6%) than men (41.3%).

BreastScreen Australia:

  • Almost 1.8 million women aged 50–74 participated in 2019–2020.
  • This was a participation rate of 50%. 

Cervical screening (NCSP):

  • 3.8 million people aged 25–74 had a cervical screening test in 2018–2020.
  • This was a participation rate of 56%. This is an estimate of program participation, as only 3 years of data are available. 
  • Participation in the new 5-year program cannot be accurately reported until there are 5 years of data available (2018–2022).

What is included in this report?

This report includes the latest available activity and participation data for the 3 cancer screening programs, as outlined below. Data in this report are updated quarterly.

Activity data:

  • activity data up to and including the December quarter 2021 for cervical and bowel cancer screening are included and, for the first time, up to the December 2020 for breast cancer screening.

Participation data:

The current report includes:

  • breast cancer screening participation data by age group and state or territory for 2019–2020 which were last updated in December 2021 (see ‘Data updates’ box for details). Participation Primary Health Network and Statistical Area Level 3 were also updated for 2019–2020 for this release.

  • bowel cancer screening participation data for 2018–2019 were last updated in June 2021 (for more information, see the box ‘Updates to bowel cancer screening participation data 2018–2019’ box in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program Participation section).

  • cervical screening participation data by state or territory and age group for 2018–2020 which were last updated in December 2021 (see ‘Data updates’ box for details).

Final 2019–2020 participation data for the bowel cancer screening program including participation by Primary Health Network and Statistical Area Level 3 to the end of 2020 will be updated in a future release of this report when these data are available.

Data updates

Data in this report are sourced from live databases, which are updated over time, with later data supply likely to have a greater level of completeness. Data in this report may differ from other AIHW cancer screening reports, which are sourced at a different time.

Activity data for cervical, bowel cancer, and now breast cancer screening are updated each quarter.

Preliminary participation data for cervical, breast, and bowel cancer screening are published ahead of the respective AIHW annual monitoring report for each program to give key stakeholders and policy-makers early access to these important data. As more recent data are used to update participation when the respective AIHW annual monitoring reports are released, preliminary participation data are subject to change.

In this report, screening activity data are presented by month and quarter for the target ages in each of the 3 screening programs. Activity data for BreastScreen Australia are reported for additional age groups. Each quarter covers 3 months of the year and is identified with reference to the last month in the quarter (for example, the December quarter comprises October, November, and December).

Participation by geography is also presented. Participation by Primary Health Network and Statistical Area Level 3 are updated for the cervical and breast screening program in this report. Participation by geography for the bowel screening program will be updated in the July 2022 release of this report. Exploring the results across different geographical areas can help to identify where resources are needed to improve equity, accessibility, and participation in cancer screening programs.

Performance measures of cancer screening programs

Participation is one of many indicators used to evaluate the performance of Australia’s national cancer screening programs against their aims.

The full set of performance indicators are reported in each program’s annual monitoring reports, available from the AIHW’s cancer screening reports page.

The activity data presented in this report complement performance indicator reporting.