Data updates

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

  • Activity data are presented to December 2020 for bowel and cervical screening. Activity data are updated quarterly and were last updated in April 2021.
  • Participation data are presented to 2018–2019 for all 3 programs. Participation data are updated annually and were last updated in December 2020.


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 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 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 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):

  • 468,000 invitations to participate were made in the NBCSP in the December quarter 2020.
  • 396,000 bowel screening kits were returned in the December quarter 2020.

Cervical screening (NCSP):

  • 143,000 cervical screening tests were performed in the December quarter 2020.
  • 51,500 of these tests were performed in October 2020; 50,600 in November; and 41,100 in December.

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 44%.
  • Participation was higher among women (46% of all women invited) than men (42%).

BreastScreen Australia:

  • Almost 1.9 million women aged 50–74 participated in 2018–2019.
  • This was a participation rate of 55%.

Cervical screening (NCSP):

  • 3.1 million people aged 25–74 had a cervical screening test in 2018–2019.
  • This was a participation rate of 46%. This is an estimate of participation, due to the fact that only 2 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. Data in this report will be updated quarterly.

The current report includes:

  • activity data up to the December quarter 2020 for bowel and cervical cancer screening
  • participation data for the 2-year period from 1 January 2018 to 31 December 2019 (2018–2019) for all 3 programs (estimated 2-year participation rate for cervical screening).

Activity data are updated each quarter, while participation data are updated annually. 

In this report, screening activity data are presented by month and quarter. Each quarter covers 3 months of the year and is identified with reference to the last month in the quarter (for example, the March quarter comprises January, February, and March).

Participation by geography is also presented. 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.

What are the other ways of measuring cancer screening program performance?

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.