Bowel cancer screening age lowered – what you need to know

  27 June 2024  NWMPHN   

From 1 July 2024 the eligible age for the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program drops from 50 to 45.

The move comes after the National Health and Medical Research Council considered the most recent evidence underpinning the clinical practice guidelines for the prevention, early detection, and management of colorectal cancer.

This led it to recommend offering bowel cancer screening to people from the age of 45. There is no change to the upper age limit of 74.

From 1 July 2024, eligible people aged 45 to 49 can request their first free kit from their GP or from the National Cancer Screening Register (NCSR) website. Further tests will then automatically be mailed to them every two years. Eligible people are those who have no signs or symptoms of bowel cancer. The test may not be appropriate for those who have had a colonoscopy in the past two years or have a family history of bowel cancer.

Eligible people aged 45 to 49 can request their first bowel screening kit be mailed to them or can request a kit from their GP. Further tests will then automatically be mailed to them every two years.

People aged 50 to 74 will continue to receive a bowel screening kit in the mail every 2 years.

A report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), released in June this year, found that in 2023-24, only 40 per cent of people provided with tests returned them for screening. In Victoria participation dropped from 43.9 per cent to 42.6 per cent.

Of all participants, six per cent returned a positive result, with one in 25 of this group subsequently diagnosed with a confirmed or probable cancer.

If your practice does not already provide kits to patients, here’s how to get started.

Health care providers can bulk order and issue kits to eligible patients through the NCSR. This is called the “alternative access to kits model”.

Practices must register for access to the NCSR Healthcare Provider Portal before ordering or issuing kits, or accessing and submitting screening data. You can find a user guide to doing so here.

The NCSR has a quick start guide and videos to support practices on the alternative access to kits model. Once registered, you can log onto the website and place an order. Ordering can also be integrated into clinical software.

Tips for ordering

Log into the Healthcare Provider Portal and click the ‘iFOBT Bulk Orders’ button to quickly order for your practice. Watch a video or access instructions here.

It’s useful to remember that kits:

  • expire after seven months
  • can be ordered in batches of 10
  • and can take up to 21 days to be dispatched.

User instructions are available in 22 languages. These can be found here.

NCSR recommends ordering no more than 30 kits at a time. However, if you have a large number of eligible patients you can order up to 100. To do this, call 1800 627 701.

Issuing kits and recording in NCSR

  1. Complete the ‘Alternative Access Model (issue/reissue kit)’ form to generate unique patient participant details.
  2. Print a copy of the participant details form and give it to the patient to sign. This has to be included with their samples in the kit reply-paid envelope.
  3. Record details in the NCSR of each kit issued.

Conversation starters

The AIHW findings show that participation rates need to increase. What you say to your patients can encourage them to do so. Here are some useful prompts:

  • The test is free, simple to do at home, and could save your life.
  • You may feel fit and healthy, but you could be at risk – increasingly so over 45.
  • If found early over 90 per cent of bowel cancers are successfully treated.
  • Put the test near the toilet so you remember to do it.
  • The test is clean and includes toilet liners.

Additional resources