FOBTs are highly sensitive, saving lives: Landmark National Bowel Screening Program outcomes report

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program is helping to reduce the stark statistics about bowel cancer, according to the recently-released first analysis of outcomes of the national program.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s 2014 Analysis of bowel cancer outcomes for the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program report from the 2006 to 2008 first phase of the program shows that the national screening test is very reliable says gastroenterologist, researcher and longstanding member of Cancer Council’s National Cancer Screening Committee, Associate Professor James St John AM.

“It showed that 83% of bowel cancers in the screened population were correctly identified in the first round of screening. Additionally, 93% of those who were free from the disease had a negative screening result, “A/Prof St John said.

“Linkage with cancer registry data for the years after the first round of screening also showed that people who receive a positive test result are 60 times more likely to have bowel cancer than those with a negative result. This shows that the faecal occult blood test (FOBT) is proving to be a highly-accurate tool for population-based screening.

“We need to continue spreading the word that this test works. GPs play a pivotal role in making their patients more aware of the national program and why bowel screening using a simple FOBT is life-saving.”

The report also found that people who had been invited into the national program were significantly less likely to have advanced bowel cancer than those who had not been invited into the program.

From this year, 70 and 74-year-olds will receive at-home bowel cancer screening kits in addition to people turning 50, 55, 60 or 65 as the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program continues to expand. Next year, the program will invite 72 and 64-year-olds. By 2020, all Australians aged 50-74 will be invited to participate in the program every two years.

Research1 indicates that biennial screening can save up to 500 lives a year and will take pressure off the health system.

1 Pignone P.P, Flitcroft K.L et al: Costs and cost-effectiveness of full implementation of a biennial faecal occult blood test screening program for bowel cancer in Australia. MJA 2011.