Starting age lowered for free bowel screening

3 minute read

The federal budget includes an expansion of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program to address rising rates in younger people.

A bowel cancer screening kit will be sent to people aged 45 years and older every two years from 1 July if they opt into the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program as part of new funding arrangements announced in the federal budget. 

The changes to the program come as bowel cancer rates continue to increase in younger people around the world and follow on from updated guideline recommendations made last year

“This screening approach offers the best balance of effectiveness, acceptable levels of safety, and value for money while avoiding unnecessary screening,” Ms Megan Varlow, acting CEO of Cancer Council Australia, told Gut Republic

From 1 July, 45–49-year-olds can join 50–74-year-olds in being able to request a free test kit through their GP, rather than having to contact the registry directly.  

Those in the 40-44 age group still fall outside the national screening program, but GPs can refer them for a pathology screening test which attracts a Medicare rebate. Anyone can purchase a test kit from a pharmacy for around $40. 

A free screening kit will continue to be automatically posted out every two years for those aged 50-74 years. 

People in their 40s are the next most likely group to be diagnosed with bowel cancer after those aged 50-74 years, accounting for 56% of new diagnoses in people under 50 and 64% of deaths from bowel cancer in people under 50. 

“Fewer people are getting bowel cancer than in the past, but this now includes more people under 50 than before. When this change to the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program comes into effect, it will help save more lives from bowel cancer,” said Ms Varlow. 

Currently, 45-49 year-olds will need to opt into participating in the program.  

“Now it’s convincing people to actually request a test kit,” said the CEO of Bowel Cancer Australia, Mr Julien Wiggins. 

Given the participation rate in the national screening program sits under 43%, that may not be an easy ask, although Mr Wiggins said that number didn’t give a complete picture of the number of people doing something to screen for bowel cancer. 

“Colonoscopy is not currently included. We have about 900,000 colonoscopies done in this country every year. Likewise, the program excludes participation of people who’ve had a colonoscopy recently,” he says.  

Mr Wiggins says one of the lessons from the program is the importance of immediacy of referral.  

“So, rather than ‘we recommend you participate in the program, but it could take six months before the test kit arrives’, now it’s, ‘we recommend you do it and by the way, here’s a kit and you can potentially do it now’. That will hopefully increase participation as well.”  

Cancer Council Australia said the guidelines were focussed on pursuing equitable participation and culturally safe access to the program.  

“The changes to the age eligibility announced this week is another welcome step to achieving this,” said Ms Varlow. 

“Health care professionals play an essential role in boosting participation rates in bowel cancer screening. We need to continue supporting them with the latest evidence-based advice so health care professionals can support Australians to benefit from screening whilst being protected from potential harms. This is going to be critical for supporting populations who typically under screen.”

End of content

No more pages to load

Log In Register ×