Cancer Council urges Victorians to participate in bowel cancer screening

Wednesday 31 January, 2007

The Cancer Council Victoria has welcomed the Victorian launch of the Australian Government's National Bowel Cancer Screening Program and is urging eligible Victorians to participate.

"More than 1000 Victorians lose their lives to bowel cancer each year - that's more than three times the Victorian road toll," Cancer Council Victoria Director Professor David Hill said. "However, bowel cancer is 90% curable if caught early, so we hope that by helping to find the disease in its earliest stages, the new screening program will save many Victorian lives. "

Initially, men and women turning 55 or 65 between May 2006 and June 2008, and those involved in the Bowel Cancer Screening Pilot Program will be eligible for the national screening program, and will be sent a Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) kit in the mail. The simple at-home test will look for tiny amounts of blood in the participants' bowel motions, which could be an indication of bowel cancer. People who return a positive FOBT test result will be referred to their GP to arrange further testing.

"We're pleased that Victoria has joined other states in rolling out the screening program," Professor Hill said. "While Victorian women have participated in screening programs such as pap testing and mammograms for a number of years, this is the first time Victorian men have also been eligible for population based screening - it's a very exciting time."

"Screening has been shown to reduce bowel cancer deaths in participants by 30 - 40 per cent, so we urge people who receive a kit to complete this simple test which could save their life," Professor Hill said.

However, Professor Hill says bowel cancer screening is important for all healthy Victorians aged over 50, not just those eligible to participate in the national program.

"An individual's risk of bowel cancer significantly increases after 50 and the disease often shows no symptoms," Professor Hill said. "So as well as minimising your bowel cancer risk through regular exercise and a healthy diet, we recommend that all healthy Victorians over 50 without a strong family history of bowel cancer should participate in screening ever two years."

Bowel cancer survivor Bill Simpson agrees. "When you talk about screening for bowel cancer, people often don't want to know about it," he said. "I survived my bowel cancer, but not everyone is so lucky - my mother-in-law lost her life to the disease."

"In the end, bowel cancer screening's not just about you," Mr Simpson said. "Cancer affects your family and friends too. So if you're not sure about whether you're going to screen, have a think about your children and your grandchildren, and think about how much time you want to spend time with them."

While the national screening program may in future be expanded to include more age groups, Victorians who are not yet eligible for the national program should speak to their GP about screening for bowel cancer with an FOBT.

The Cancer Council recommends that those Victorians who have a family history of bowel cancer or symptoms that may indicate bowel cancer should talk to their GP. When bowel cancer symptoms are present, they may include:

  • Blood after a bowel motion
  • An unexplained and persistent change in bowel actions. For example, looser or more frequent bowel motions or becoming severely constipated
  • Unexplained tiredness
  • Lower abdominal pain or a persistent feeling of fullness.

More information about the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program can be found at http://www.cancerscreening.gov.au/ or by calling the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program Information line on 1800 118 868.

People with other questions about bowel cancer can call the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20.

Further information

Contact: Anna Jones
Ph: (03) 9635 5670 or 0412 704 608
Email: Anna.Jones@cancervic.org.au

Available for interview:

  • Cancer Council Victoria Director Professor David Hill
  • Bowel cancer survivor