Cancer Screening in Australia

Cancer is one of the leading causes of illness and death in Australia. Cancer screening programs aim to reduce the impact of selected cancers by facilitating early detection, intervention and treatment. Australia has three cancer screening programs:

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

High rates of participation are needed to reap the greatest 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).

Key participation rates

Of the population who was eligible to participate in each of the national cancer screening programs:

In 2017–2018:


  • Of the 5 million people aged 50–74 invited to screen, almost 2.1 million (42%) participated. Participation was higher among women (45% of all women invited) than men (40%). 
  • Since the bowel screening program commenced in 2006, over 3.6 million people have participated in at least one screening round.

In 2016–2017:

  • BreastScreen Australia: More than 1.8 million women aged 50–74 participated—an age-standardised participation rate of 55%.

In 2015–2016:

  • NCSP: More than 3.8 million women aged 20–69 participated—an age-standardised participation rate of 56%.

Participation by Geography

Exploring participation data across different geographic areas may assist policy makers to identify where resources are needed to improve equity, accessibility and participation in cancer screening programs.

The latest participation data for BreastScreen Australia, the NBCSP, and the NCSP are presented by state and territory, Primary Health Network (PHN), and Statistical Area Level 3 (SA3). Data for Statistical Area Level 2 (SA2) are also presented for the NBCSP.

These data, which can be explored in the data visualisations, or Excel data tables cover the 2-year period up to:

  • 31 December 2018 for the NBCSP
  • 31 December 2017 for BreastScreen Australia
  • 31 December 2016 for the NCSP.

Activity data

Quarterly activity data report the actual number of people that are attending a BreastScreen service, having a cervical screening test, or receiving, completing and returning a bowel screening test each quarter. This shows both the volume of work undertaken by each of the three cancer screening programs, and the number of people engaging with them. Quarterly reporting may allow seasonal trends within and across calendar years to be seen, and data can be released in a timely manner.

This report includes activity reporting for the number of invites issued and bowel screening kits returned each quarter between 1 January 2014 and 30 June 2019 with data for BreastScreen Australia and the National Cervical Screening Program to be added in future releases.

The aim of reporting quarterly activity data is to complement the existing formal performance indicator reporting in the annual monitoring reports available from the Cancer screening reports page

Other cancer screening performance indicators

Program 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 programs’ annual monitoring reports from the Cancer screening reports page.