GPs can be the key to increasing bowel screening

GPs can play a vital role in the early detection of bowel cancer by encouraging their patients to participate in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program.

The Cancer Institute NSW, as part of a new campaign encouraging participation in the screening program, is calling on GPs to discuss bowel cancer screening with their patients.

The campaign, ‘A Gift for Living,’ will air throughout May and June, and encourage people aged 50-74 in NSW to participate in bowel cancer screening.

If participation rates reach 60% nationwide, 90,000 lives could be saved over the next forty years1 – currently, NSW has the second lowest rate in Australia at 33%.

Dr Ross Walker is a practicing doctor with a medical practice in Lindfield, and a health advocate appearing on Sydney radio and national TV. Dr Walker says a recommendation from a health professional to screen for bowel cancer can play a key role in encouraging people to complete and return their screening kit.

“A general practitioner’s encouragement for their patients to participate in the bowel cancer screening program has been shown to be a very powerful incentive,” he says.

Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in Australia, with around 80 Australians dying every week.

The impact of screening

People aged 50-74 and eligible will be sent a free bowel cancer screening kit in the mail around their birthday – all they have to do is complete the test and post it via the accompanying reply-paid envelope.

Most bowel cancers detected through the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program are found in the earliest stages.

If detected early, up to 90 per cent of bowel cancer cases can be successfully treated.

“After age 50, the risk for bowel cancer increases significantly,” Dr Walker says.

“Early detection with the bowel cancer screening program is the best way to prevent the danger of missing a diagnosis of bowel cancer,” he says.

A recent report found the immunochemical faecal occult blood test (FOBT), used in the program, is currently the most sensitive screening test for use in population screening.2

Evidence shows people invited to take part in the program had 15 per cent less risk of dying from bowel cancer, and were more likely to have less-advanced bowel cancers when diagnosed than non-invitees.3

More information



1 Cenin DR, St John J, Slevin T et al. Optimising the expansion of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. Med J Aust 2014;201:456-61.
2 HealthPACT report. July 2015. Blood and stool based biomarker testing for colorectal cancer. Queensland Department of Health.
3 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2014. Analysis of bowel cancer outcomes for the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. Cat. no. CAN 87. Canberra: AIHW.