Bowel Cancer screening: Why can’t I participate?

National Seniors branch members are questioning why people aged over 74 are not able to participate in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. Here is what we found.

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program invites eligible people aged 50 to 74 years to complete a free screening test. 

The recommended strategy is to have a special blood test every 2 years from age 50 to 74.

The Health Department justifies the limited age range “… after consideration of the effectiveness, cost-effectiveness and the overall balance of benefits to risk of harm associated with screening”. 

The Department goes on to say that people over 74 “ … are at greater risks from the follow-up procedures used for bowel cancer screening and are encouraged to speak with their doctor about screening options based on their individual circumstances.”

The upper age of 74 years is based on current evidence on the harms and benefits of population screening and is in keeping with the recommendations of the National Health and Medical Research Council approved Clinical Guidelines for the Prevention, Early Detection and Management of Colorectal Cancer.

According to the Clinical Guidelines:

  • Screening once every two years between 50 and 74 years was predicted to reduce colorectal cancer incidence by 52% and reduce colorectal cancer mortality by 74%, compared to no screening.
  • Extending the age of ceasing screening to 79 or 84 years would result an additional reduction of 1–2 percentage points in colorectal cancer incidence and 2–5 percentage points in colorectal cancer mortality.
  • Extending the age range to 79 or 84 years is not recommended for population screening as it is unlikely to be cost-effective. If you are over the aged of 74 and concerned about bowel cancer you should talk with your doctor about screening options.

If you are over the age of 74 and concerned about bowel cancer, you should talk with your doctor about screening options.

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