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.

BreastScreen Australia:

In 2017–2018:

  • More than 1.8 million women aged 50–74 participated —a participation rate of 55%.


In 2018:

  • Participation in the new 5-year program cannot be properly reported until there are 5 years of data available. In the interim, preliminary estimates have been calculated.  A single-year estimate of participation of 54% has been produced for 2018, during which almost 1.8 million women aged 25–74 had a Cervical Screening Test.

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 and the NBCSP are presented by state and territory, Primary Health Network (PHN), and Statistical Area Level 3 (SA3). Geographical data for the renewed NCSP are not yet available, except by state and territory. 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 2018 for BreastScreen Australia

Activity data

Quarterly activity data report the actual number of screening mammograms at a BreastScreen service, number of Cervical Screening Tests performed, or number of bowel screening tests completed and returned each quarter. This shows the volume of work undertaken by each of the three cancer screening programs. 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 September 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.