Bowel screening participation rates and numbers

Why this indicator is important

Bowel cancer can affect any part of the large bowel. The risk of bowel cancer increases with age. Projections show that by 2022, 112 people will be diagnosed with bowel cancer every week in NSW.1

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) endorsed Clinical practice guidelines for the prevention, early detection and management of colorectal cancer (2017) recommends two‑yearly bowel screening for people aged 50–74.2

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.3

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 34.1% in 2014 to 40.0% in 2019.
  • Over the same period the number of people invited to participate in the program has increased by 121% from 427,401 in 2014 to 946,185 in 2019.
  • In every age group, men have lower bowel screening participation rates than women.

Annual bowel invitations sent and participation rate* for people aged 50–74, trend, NSW, 2014–2019

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 Cancer Screening Register, August 2020.


  1. Cancer Institute NSW: Bowel Cancer Statistics. Available at: (accessed 9 April 2020). 
  2. Cancer Council Australia. Clinical practice guidelines for the prevention, early detection and management of colorectal cancer. Sydney: Cancer Council Australia, 2018. Available at (accessed 14 February 2020).
  3. 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.1420–5.