Cancer Screening

April 2009

FocusCancer Screening

Bowel cancer screening

A role for general practice

Volume 38, No.4, April 2009 Pages 200-203

Linda Foreman


Current Australian guidelines recommend regular screening with faecal occult blood tests (FOBT) in asymptomatic people over 50 years of age in order to reduce mortality from bowel cancer. After assessing the feasibility, acceptability and cost effectiveness of bowel cancer screening using FOBTs in an Australian setting, the Australian Government commenced the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) in August 2006 among certain age groups.


This article discusses the background to the establishment of the NBCSP and the role of the general practitioner in bowel cancer screening.


General practitioners have a number of important roles in the NBCSP, including encouraging participation, managing participants who have a positive FOBT, providing information about referrals to the NBCSP, and managing individuals who, by way of symptoms or significant family history, require diagnostic investigations or targeted surveillance rather than screening. In addition, GPs need to be aware of the populations groups not targeted by the current phases of the NBCSP but for whom bowel cancer screening is recommended.

Bowel cancer is the second most common internal cancer affecting Australians, with approximately 12 500 new cases and 4300 deaths each year.1 Men are slightly more likely to be affected than women,1 and the risk of colorectal cancer (CRC) increases with age.2

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