Journal article

Increasing bowel cancer screening participation: integrating population-wide, primary care and more targeted approaches

Cancer Cancer screening Bowel cancer Public health Mass media Victoria


Objectives: Participation in the Australian National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) is suboptimal. Given the program’s enormous potential to save lives, Cancer Council Victoria has prioritised increased screening participation as part of its strategic plan. This paper describes the implementation, and evaluation where available, of Cancer Council Victoria programs to increase participation, supported by a mix of own organisation and Victorian state health department funding.

Type of programs: At the population level, Cancer Council Victoria has delivered television-led mass media campaigns to motivate age-eligible individuals to complete and return their NBCSP kit. It has also delivered targeted awareness and education programs for underscreened populations including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities, and groups experiencing social disadvantage. Programs involving general practice have also been trialled to improve the knowledge and confdence of general practitioners (GPs) to discuss bowel screening with their patients, and to implement identifcation, reminder and follow-up systems to improve bowel screening participation.

Results: There is strong evidence to support the use of mass media public health campaigns, which have resulted in signifcant increases in screening kit return rates. Targeted education sessions with underscreened communities have led to increases in knowledge about bowel cancer screening, confdence to do the test and intention to participate in the NBCSP in communities where these sessions have been trialled. Early fndings suggest that GP endorsement strategies are welcomed by patients and are an effective way to encourage NBCSP participation. System changes using patient information systems may be more challenging, given the inconsistent entry of NBCSP data.

Lessons learnt: Our work to date demonstrates that there is a strong case for regular, widespread mass media strategies to increase NBCSP participation. There is also evidence to support more tailored, complementary approaches with dedicated education programs for underscreened groups, and active and sustained engagement with underscreened communities and primary care providers to overcome personal, cultural and systems barriers to screening. Improved data capture capabilities are needed to better implement and evaluate the impact of future strategies to improve NBCSP participation.

Key points:

  • The Australian National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) provides free screening to eligible people aged 50–74 years
  • NBCSP participation is suboptimal, particularly among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, some culturally and linguistically diverse communities, and other groups experiencing social disadvantage
  • Mass media campaigns, targeted awareness and education programs, and primary care strategies may increase NBCSP participation
  • Tailored strategies are required to support participation by underscreened populations • General practitioner endorsement is one of the strongest motivational factors to participate in screening
Publication Details
License type:
Access Rights Type: