Age lowered for bowel cancer screening

Morgan Liotta

20/05/2024 3:28:28 PM

From the age of 45, eligible Australians will soon be able to screen with the national program as part of this year’s Federal Budget package.

GP talking to patient with bowel cancer screen kit
Experts, including the RACGP and NHMRC, have previously called for an eligibility change to begin bowel cancer screening from a younger age.

From 1 July 2024 people aged between 45 and 49 will be eligible to screen with the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP), as announced last week in the 2024–25 Federal Budget.
Eligible people in the lowered age group will be able to join the free NBCSP by requesting their first bowel screening kit to be mailed – a move supported by the RACGP, outlining in its Budget overview that it aligns with the college’s Guidelines for preventive activities in general practice (Red Book) recommendations.
Associate Professor Joel Rhee, who is Chair of RACGP Specific Interests Cancer and Palliative Care, welcomed the change.
‘This is a great outcome for Australians,’ he told newsGP.
‘Lowering the screening age to 45 years for those at average risk will help in picking up bowel cancer earlier and hopefully at an early stage.’
The change comes following the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) calling for bowel cancer screening to begin from the age of 45 for people at average risk of contracting the disease, based on the NHMRC’s endorsement of clinical practice guidelines updated in September 2023.
Associate Professor Rhee also said at the time this would ‘strengthen the NBCSP’ if implemented by the Government.
Additionally, Bowel Cancer Australia recently proposed to follow the lead of other countries by lowering the entry age for population bowel cancer screening from 50 to 45.
With the change now approved by the Federal Government, this decision was made after ‘carefully considering’ the implications for the broader health system, including the costs and flow-on effects, the Department of Health and Aged Care (DoHAC) states.
As part of a $71 million 2024–25 Budget package over four years to continue support services, programs and research to improve cancer outcomes, Government funding includes $38.8 million to continue the national Federation Funding Agreement for the Participant Follow-up Function of the NBCSP.
Under the eligibility change to the screening program people from the age of 45 can also talk to their doctor about getting a kit through the program’s alternative access to kits model.  
The alternative access model, introduced last year, allows healthcare providers to bulk order NBCSP kits to issue directly to eligible patients during an appointment and explain how the test works, with the aim to increase GPs’ role in promoting and delivering the screening.
Coming into effect from 1 July, Associate Professor Rhee said it is important to keep in mind that this change in eligibility is for those at ‘average risk’.
‘People who have a family history or other risk factors should speak to their usual GP for guidance on the best screening strategy,’ he said.
‘And of course, anyone who is symptomatic should not rely on a negative screening test result but see their GP for further assessment.’
The DoHAC confirms there is no change to current NBCSP practice for eligible people aged 50–74, who will continue to automatically receive a bowel cancer screening kit in the mail every two years.
Consistent with this existing process, once people aged 45–49 request their first kit, their next kit will automatically be mailed two years after their last test result.
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age eligibility bowel cancer cancer screening National Bowel Cancer Screening Program NHMRC

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