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New study reveals the factors that influence bowel cancer screening participation

18th December 2017 - Cancer prevention Cancer research

Research shows the need for increased bowel screening awareness across Australia

A new, Australian-first study by Cancer Council NSW has shed light on the factors that influence whether or not someone participates in bowel cancer screening. The analysis of almost 100,000 people showed that smokers, disadvantaged groups and those with non-English speaking backgrounds were among the groups less likely to access screening.

Using data from the Sax Institute’s 45 and Up Study, the study’s aim was to find out how a range of factors would influence someone’s likelihood to access bowel cancer screening, either through a program like the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) or through other, more ad hoc forms of bowel screening.

The study analysed data of over 91,000 people. Over 76% reported that they had been screened for bowel cancer before. Of those study participants that were eligible for the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, 52% reported having participated in it.

“We found that participation in the NBCSP was lowest in those living in the most socioeconomically disadvantaged areas,” said Professor Karen Canfell, Director of Research at Cancer Council NSW.

“Also, we found that current smokers, people who did not attend screening for other cancers, those who had lower levels of education, people who did not speak English at home as well as those who self-reported poor health were less likely to have ever participated in the NBCSP.”

Cancer Council strongly encourages all Australians aged 50-74 years to take part in the NBCSP when they are sent the test kit.

“The findings underpin the need for a large-scale mass media public education campaign to increase screening participation across the whole population, including in those less likely to screen,” said Paul Grogan, Director, Public Policy and Knowledge Management at Cancer Council Australia.

“We’re also calling on the Government to revive its highly effective National Tobacco Campaign, to encourage smokers to quit. When smokers quit, their health automatically improves. For many, it’s also a time to take additional steps to improve their health. The time is right for a comprehensive cancer prevention package, to improve bowel cancer screening participation and reduce smoking prevalence – and create a win-win, where disadvantaged and high-risk groups can take greater control of their health,” Mr Grogan continued.

Professor Canfell concluded: “A previous study of ours has shown that even a modest increase in participation in the program would have an incredible impact on bowel cancer cases and deaths – so don’t be embarrassed, a simple stool check could save your life.

“90 per cent of bowel cancers can be cured if detected early. Finding bowel cancer early can therefore substantially improve your chance of surviving the disease.”

– ENDS –

Media contact: Isabelle Dubach, Cancer Council NSW, T: (02) 9334 1872; M: 0401 524 321;

Notes to editor

About the study

  • “Factors associated with participation in colorectal cancer screening in Australia: results from the 45 and Up Study cohort” is a study by Cancer Council NSW researchers published in Preventive Medicine.
  • It’s the first comprehensive study that reports which factors are associated with bowel cancer screening in Australia.
  • No other studies before this one have looked at the influence of this range of lifestyle and sociodemographic factors (other than those routinely reported by the NBCSP) on screening uptake. Screening behaviour in relation to bowel cancer risk factors has also not been explored previously.
  • The Sax Institute’s 45 and Up Study is the largest ongoing study of healthy ageing in the Southern Hemisphere, involving a quarter of a million people – one in every 10 men and women aged 45 and over in NSW.
  • This study analysed questionnaire data from 91,968 45 and Up Study participants.

About bowel cancer and bowel cancer screening

  • In 2017, bowel – or colorectal – cancer is predicted to become the second most common cancer in Australia and to remain the second most common cause of cancer death.
  • In Australia, the lifetime risk of developing bowel cancer before the age of 75 is around one in 19 for men and one in 28 for women – one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world.
  • Risk factors for bowel cancer include older age, polyps, bowel diseases, strong family history and rare genetic disorders.
  • Lifestyle factors such as being overweight, having a diet high in red meat, drinking alcohol and smoking also put people at higher risk for bowel cancer.
  • 16,682 cases of bowel cancer are predicted to be diagnosed in Australia in 2017, and 4,114 Australians are estimated to die from the disease this year.
  • In Australia, the NBCSP was initially introduced in 2006, and will be fully rolled out for 2-yearly screening in all people aged 50-74 years by 2020.
  • Currently, Australians aged 50, 54, 55, 58, 60, 64, 68, 70, 72 and 74 are eligible for the faecal occult blood test (FOBT) free of charge through the NBCSP.
  • It is recommended that everyone aged 50-74 years have a FOBT when they are sent the invitation from the NBCSP.
Cancer prevention Cancer research