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Bowel screening participation rates and numbers

Why this indicator is important

Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, can affect any part of the large bowel, which includes the colon and rectum. It may also be referred to as colon cancer or rectal cancer, depending on where the cancer is located.

Bowel cancer is the second-most common cause of cancer deaths in NSW. The risk of bowel cancer also increases with age.

Projections show that by 2021, every week in NSW:

  • 111 people will be diagnosed with bowel cancer
  • 35 people will die from bowel cancer.1

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program is a Commonwealth government-funded program that invites people aged 50–74 years to do a free bowel screening test every two years.

This test involves collecting small samples of bowel motions (faeces/poo), which are sent to a laboratory for testing. Called the immunochemical faecal occult blood test (iFOBT), it can detect small amounts of blood in the sample. It cannot diagnose bowel cancer, but a positive result indicates that colonoscopy is needed to rule out bowel cancer. A colonoscopy is a procedure to look inside the bowel. 

The aim of screening is to find bowel cancer early, when it can be successfully treated in more than 90 per cent of cases.2

About this indicator

This indicator shows participation in bowel screening by people aged 50 to 74 in NSW. 

  • Bowel screening participation for people aged 50–74 years in NSW increased from 33.0% in 2013 to 39.5% in 2018.
  • Bowel screening participation rates have increased in all NSW LHDs.

  • In 2018, 321,594 people in NSW were screened. 

  • In every age group, men have lower participation rates in bowel screening than women.

Annual bowel screening participation rate* for people aged 50–74, trend, NSW, 2012–2017

Annual bowel screening participation rate* for people aged 50–74, trend, NSW, 2012–2017

N = Number of invitations sent in 2018.

* The participation rate is the proportion of the eligible population invited to the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP), who returned a completed immunochemical faecal occult blood test (iFOBT). 


  1. Data Source: National Bowel Cancer Screening Program Reporting Portal, July 2019.
  2. Participation rates shown in this report vary slightly from data published by Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, due to variations in methodology.


  1. Cancer Institute NSW: Bowel Cancer Statistics. Available at: (accessed 9 April 2020). 
  2. O’Connell JB, Maggard MA and Ko CY. Colon cancer survival rates with the new American Joint Committee on Cancer sixth edition staging. J Natl Cancer Inst 2004.96(19):p.1420–to5.