Bowel cancer screening and prevention

Bowel cancer is a major cause of cancer related death for both men and women with around 80 Australians dying from the disease every week. The good news is, if detected early up to 90% of cases can be successfully treated.

Bowel cancer develops in the wall or lining of the colon.  It begins when cells grow too quickly, forming a clump known as a polyp or adenoma.  Most are benign (non-cancerous), but over several years, some can become cancerous.  If left untreated, the cancer can spread to other areas of the body. 

The best way to reduce your risk of bowel cancer is to:

National Bowel Cancer Screening Program

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program is a Commonwealth Government initiative that provides a free test kit to eligible men and women to test for early signs of bowel cancer.  The National Health and Medical Research Council clinical guidelines recommend that all people aged 50 years and over with no symptoms be screened for bowel cancer every 2 years.

Age groups

You can participate in the free program if you:

  • are turning 50, 54, 55, 58, 60, 64, 68, 70, 72, or 74 years old this year, and
  • have a Medicare card or DVA card.

Find out when you will receive your free test kit.

If you are not currently eligible, you can ask your doctor about taking a bowel cancer screening test, or you can buy a test kit at a pharmacy.

By 2020, all Australians aged between 50 and 74 will be offered free screening every two years.

Taking the test

You will receive a free bowel cancer screening kit by mail containing a Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT).

The test is quick and easy and involves taking a small sample from 2 bowel motions, in the privacy of your own home. You send the samples back to the laboratory for testing, in the reply paid envelope provided.

Watch this short video to learn how easy taking the test can be.


Test results:

You will receive your results in the mail. If your test is:

  • positive (blood is found in the bowel motion): you should see your doctor as soon as possible to talk about the results and any further tests that may be needed.
  • negative (no blood is found in the bowel motion): no further investigation is needed at this time.  You will be invited to screen again in 2 years time.

Help and advice

Call the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program Information Line on 1800 118 868 for general questions regarding the Program or to order a replacement FOBT kit.

Call the Faecal Occult Blood Test Helpline on 1800 738 365 for information about using the FOBT kit.

Read frequently asked questions about the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program.