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Optimising the expansion of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program

With more than 14 000 newly diagnosed cases and about 4000 deaths each year, bowel cancer, or colorectal cancer, is the second most commonly reported cancer and the second most common cause of cancer-related death in Australia.1 Estimates show that one in 12 Australians are likely to develop bowel cancer before the age of 85 years,2 making Australia highly ranked in bowel cancer incidence by international comparisons.3

Screening for bowel cancer is an attractive and viable option based on the World Health Organization’s criteria for a cancer screening program.4 Screening using the faecal occult blood test (FOBT) is well established as an effective way to reduce incidence and mortality of bowel cancer in the general population.58 In 1999, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommended biennial screening with the FOBT for those aged over 50 years.9 The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP), using the immunochemical FOBT (iFOBT), commenced in 2006 but was limited in scope, only offering screening to specific age cohorts (ages 55 and 65 years from 2006 and age 50 years from 2008).10

In the 2012–13…