Bowel cancer

The NSW Cancer Plan aims to improve outcomes for all cancers across the community. However, it has a specific focus on bowel cancer because of its considerable impact on the community. By putting into practice what we know about screening, for diagnosing and treating bowel cancer, we can bring about better outcomes.

The impact of bowel cancer

Australia has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world. In NSW, one in 11 men and one in 15 women will develop bowel cancer by the age of 85, and around 32 men and women die each week from bowel cancer.1

Survival rates for bowel cancer are significantly improved when the disease is detected and treated early.

What we are achieving to lessen the impact of bowel cancer

We have been working across NSW to improve outcomes for people with bowel cancer. Over the past 12 months we have achieved the following:

Increasing participation in bowel cancer screening

We continue to deliver mass media campaigns and social marketing activities to promote participation in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program in NSW. 

  • The 'Do the Test' Bowel Cancer Screening Campaign ran from January to June 2019. The campaign raised awareness of bowel cancer and motivated 50 to 74-year-old people in NSW to participate in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program.
  • Evaluation of the 2019 campaign showed the campaign had a positive impact on test kit returns. Over the 23-week campaign period, 192,288 bowel screening test kits were returned in NSW. This is an additional 13.3% of kits (22,563 kits) returned above the expected amount for this period.
  • This campaign will be repeated in 2020 and will include television, billboards and bus stops, radio and digital advertising, as well as a partnership with Tennis Australia.
  • We continue to work with key stakeholders to improve participation in the National Bowel Cancer Screening program. We piloted a program of work with GPs in western Sydney, in which we delivered small group and individual education sessions, aimed at increasing GPs awareness and knowledge of the program. Participants reported the activity was a positive experience leading to positive changes in knowledge, awareness and intended practice about bowel cancer screening.

"I was not aware of the [low] uptake/ participation rate and will actively discuss and encourage patients to participate" - participant GP.

  • We are also working closely with the Australian Government Department of Health and Telstra Health to support their delivery of the National Cancer Screening Register for bowel cancer screening.

Find out more about how to screen for bowel cancer.

    Addressing the needs of priority population groups
  • We supported uptake of our Bowel Health and Screening Flipchart and Facilitator Manual among multicultural health and community organisations. In 2018 and 2019,
    • almost 100 bilingual educators and other health and community workers were trained to use the resources
    • 56 community education sessions were run by our stakeholders, reaching 1,500 community members from 15 different language and cultural backgrounds. 
Bowel cancer flipchart resources
Improving access to colonoscopy in NSW
  • Since 2014, we have funded 13 grants, which aim to support the health system to improve timely diagnosis of bowel cancer, by improving access to public colonoscopy services for patients following a positive bowel cancer screening test, called an immunochemical faecal occult blood test (iFOBT).
    An outcome of many of these grants was the implementation of a direct access model of care. Key outcomes for these grants included consistent reduction in wait times for colonoscopy.
  • We are now leading the implementation of direct access models of care across the entire state through the Direct Access Colonoscopy (DAC) initiative. This is part of the NSW Health Leading Better Value Care program which aims to achieve system reform by shifting from volume-based to value-based healthcare.
    The DAC initiative will primarily focus on increasing access to colonoscopy services by:
    • implementing direct access services for patients with a positive iFOBT (including centralised and streamlined referral pathways)
    • triaging and prioritising colonoscopy wait lists.
Providing the Participant Follow Up Function (PFUF) for bowel cancer screening participants
  • We continue to operate the Participant Follow Up Function by arrangement with the Australian Government Department of Health. This service complements the reminder letters and usual care provided through the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. When someone receives a positive bowel screening result (meaning that microscopic blood was detected, which requires further investigation) they may be contacted by a PFUF officer who encourages them to continue along the screening pathway and have both a GP assessment and diagnostic colonoscopy. This helps to minimise undue delays in diagnosing bowel cancers.
  • Over the first three years that we delivered this service (to May 2019), we followed up with more than 65,000 people in NSW and supported them after their poitive test result.
NSW Cancer Plan initiatives for bowel cancer

NSW Cancer Plan initiatives for bowel cancer

The NSW Cancer Plan includes a number of strategies that will reduce the impact of bowel cancer on the community by building on existing programs, such as:

  • strategies to improve operation of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program
  • public education campaigns to raise awareness of bowel cancer
  • public education campaigns to promote bowel cancer screening
  • improving diagnosis pathways to promote early detection
  • improving treatment pathways
  • primary care engagement initiatives to promote screening
  • strategies that focus on high-risk populations, including Aboriginal and multicultural communities
  • supporting access to best practice multidisciplinary cancer care through resources such as Canrefer.

Progress of the NSW Cancer Plan is regularly monitored and evaluated. Find more information on the indicators used to track against the Plan's objectives.