Improving participation in bowel cancer screening


One in 13 Australians will be diagnosed with bowel cancer in their lifetime. If it is diagnosed early, five-year relative survival rates following treatment are higher than 90%. Improving early detection and diagnosis of bowel cancer is key to improving survival, reducing deaths, and reducing healthcare costs associated with treatment. Participation in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) is strongly linked to improved survival from bowel cancer in the Australian population; however, only 4 in 10 people complete and return their faecal occult blood test (FOBT) kits.

Our research aims to identify and address the barriers to participation in the NBCSP.

Work to date

We have recently completed a three-phase project investigating the practical barriers to home bowel cancer screening and ways to improve the home screening kit to increase participation.

Procrastination, disgust and hygiene concerns, fear of a positive result, physical difficulties and a preference for making autonomous screening decisions were identified as key barriers preventing participation in the NBCSP. Through direct consultation with consumers, we have begun designing interventions to address these barriers.

See below for a list of publications to date:

  1. Goodwin BC, Myers L, Ireland MJ, March S, Ralph N, Dunn J, et al. Barriers to Home Bowel Cancer Screening. Psycho-Oncology. 2021;30(10):1756–64. Read summary
  2. Goodwin BC, Viljoen B, Myers L, Ireland MJ, Dunn J, Chambers SK, et al. Identifying modifiable features of home bowel cancer screening kits to facilitate use: consumer perspectives. Public Health Research and Practice. 2022;1–8. Read summary
  3. Myers L, Goodwin BC, Ireland M, March S, Aitken J. Mail-out bowel cancer screening: Identifying the behavioural stumbling blocks. Psycho-Oncology. 2021. doi: 10.1002/pon.5866. Read summary

Next Steps

Based on our work to date, the research team at Cancer Council Queensland will play a key role in several national initiatives to increase bowel cancer screening participation in Australia. Examples include:

  • BEST Bowel: In collaboration with the University of Melbourne, we are developing a several kit modifications to be trialled within the NBCSP. Through consultations with consumers and experts we will design and evaluate optimal strategies for increase participation in the program.
  • SMARTER Screen: In another collaboration with the University of Melbourne, the research team at Cancer Council Queensland will develop and co-ordinate the Queensland arm of a National intervention trial of SMS to deliver GP endorsement messages and tailored video content to encouraging screening in kit recipients.