Bowel screening

Screening for bowel cancer can save lives by finding bowel cancer early when it is easier to treat and cure. Screening can also find polyps (growths) in the bowel which can be removed before they develop into cancer.

National Bowel Cancer Screening Program

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program provides free screening every two years for men and women aged from 50 to 74 years who hold a Medicare card or Department of Veterans’ Affairs card. 

If you are not eligible under the national program, it does not mean you cannot be screened. Contact your usual General Practitioner (GP) or general practice to discuss your screening options. Your usual GP or general practice can request a Faecal Occult Blood Test, which is eligible for a Medicare benefit. Most pathology practices bulk bill for this test, which means that there will be no out of pocket cost to you.

You can find answers to frequently asked questions about the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program.

Taking the test

The Faecal Occult Blood Test is quick, easy and doesn’t hurt. It involves collecting small amounts of your faeces or bowel motions and sending them to a pathology laboratory where they are tested for small amounts of blood.

You can do the test provided by the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program yourself at home in privacy and mail (free of charge) the two samples of your faeces (bowel motions) to the program’s laboratory for analysis. The results will be sent to you by mail and, with your agreement, to your usual GP or general practice.

Test results explained

A negative test result means no blood has been found and further tests are not needed at this time. However, a negative result does not guarantee that cancer is not present or that it won’t develop in the future.

A positive test result indicates blood has been found in the faeces (bowel motions) and means follow-up tests, such as a colonoscopy, are needed to find the cause of the bleeding. In many cases, these further tests find no abnormality or only non-cancerous conditions such as haemorrhoids (piles).

Occasionally a polyp or small cancer is found that can be treated successfully. It is important to make an appointment and discuss these results with your usual GP or general practice. For more information about colonoscopy, refer to the colonoscopy brochure on the Australian Government Department of Health website.

Reminder service

As part of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, a register has been developed to assist participants through the screening pathway. Written reminders are automatically sent to people who have not attended the necessary follow-up after a positive Faecal Occult Blood Test result. In addition to this, SA Health Participant Follow-up Officers contact South Australian participants with a positive screening result to encourage them to progress through the screening pathway where they do not appear to have attended their doctor for the necessary follow-up.

National Cancer Screening Register

The National Cancer Screening Register (NCSR) plays a vital role in supporting the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP). The NCSR enables a single electronic record for each person in Australia participating in the NBCSP. It gives healthcare providers better access to quality health information and makes it easier for program participants to take control of their health.