Thousands of lives saved in bowel cancer screening rollout

June 9, 2014

At least 70,000 Australian bowel cancer deaths will be prevented in the coming 40 years thanks to a five-year plan to finalise the national bowel cancer screening program announced in the federal budget last month.

Cancer Council WA said it’s pleased that a commitment to complete the program has finally been made, after being introduced more than 10 federal budgets ago.

Cancer Council WA’s Bowel Cancer Education Coordinator, Dayna Cenin, said the complete roll out of the program is both welcome and timely.

“Bowel cancer is the number one cancer for Western Australian men and women and kills more people each year than breast or prostate cancers, yet most cases can be cured if detected early,” Ms Cenin said.

“What’s more, bowel cancer is one of the most preventable cancers, especially when it’s caught early – and screening helps us to do exactly that, which is why Cancer Council is so pleased that we will soon have a fully implemented screening program.”

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) currently screens eligible Australians aged 50, 55, 60 and 65 with an immunochemical faecal occult blood test (iFOBT).

The complete implementation of the NBCSP will mean that two yearly screening with iFOBT for those aged 50 to 74, will be in place by 2020.

“This is an important and exciting time.  Right now there are thousands of Australians in apparently good health who have an early-stage bowel cancer or a pre-cancerous polyp that shows no symptoms of the disease,” Ms Cenin said.

“By screening all Australians aged 50 and over every two years, we’ll be able to pick up a significant number of those cases when they are relatively easy to treat.

“The iFOBT is a non-invasive test that’s easy to do in the privacy of your own home, but this simple test could save your life.

“Of course, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer, such as bleeding from the back passage or any sign of blood after a bowel motion, changes in usual bowel pattern (constipation or diarrhoea), abdominal pain and bloating, and unexplained anaemia.

“But it’s equally important to know that bowel cancer often develops without symptoms which is why regular screening for bowel cancer is essential,” Ms Cenin said.

Eligible people will receive an invitation in the mail from the Federal Government, and shortly after will receive the iFOBT kit, which is completed in the comfort of your own home and sent off to a pathology lab for analysis.

If the iFOBT finds blood, which only occurs in about 7% of cases, further tests are needed (usually a colonoscopy).

Those who screen for bowel cancer using FOBT are more likely to have their cancer found at an earlier, less advanced stage, which means the treatment is less invasive and the chances of survival are better.

If you’d like to know more about bowel cancer and screening for bowel cancer, visit our website or phone Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20.

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