Bowel cancer screening rate down | Colonoscopy wait times up for those with a positive screening result

Bowel Cancer Australia

Friday, 16 June 2023, Sydney: The latest National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) Report(i) (2020-21) released today, reveals participation continues to linger in the low 40s, falling to 40.9% (2019-20: 43.8%), and colonoscopy wait times exceed the recommended 30 days.

The latest participation rate (2020-21) is the same as it was in 2015-16 despite almost $20 million invested by the Australian Government in raising awareness of the NBCSP since 2019.

The wait time between a positive screening result and colonoscopy has increased in every state and territory, with participants waiting between 119 days in Western Australia and 235 days in Tasmania, depending on where they live (2019-20: 113-190 days).

Only 11,990 (15.6%) participants were recorded as receiving a colonoscopy within the recommended 30-day time frame following a positive screening result.

Bowel Cancer Australia CEO, Julien Wiggins said, “The opportunity for early detection is lost if not promptly followed by colonoscopy.”

“As so few participants are receiving colonoscopies within the clinically recommended time frame, questions need to be asked,” Mr Wiggins added.

Medical guidelines acknowledge wait times exceeding 120 days between the first healthcare presentation (for symptoms or a positive screening result) and colonoscopy are associated with poorer clinical outcomes.

The guidelines also state that colonoscopy should be performed as promptly as possible after a positive screening result to minimise the risk of psychological harm.

“We need to ensure participants are not left waiting for long periods after receiving a positive screening result, not knowing if cancer is present,” Mr Wiggins added.

According to the report, 6.1 million people aged 50-74 were invited to participate in the NBCSP in 2020-21 and 2.49 million tests were returned.

Of those who participated, 76,880 received a positive result. A positive result means blood was detected in the sample and further investigation is required via colonoscopy, within 30 days.

In Australia, over 15,600 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year.

1-in-10 new bowel cancer cases now occur in people under the age of 50, who are currently ineligible to participate in the NBCSP.

Bowel cancer is Australia’s second deadliest cancer, claiming over 5,300 lives each year.

/Public Release.