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One million Australians targeted in first bowel cancer screening program

Monday 4 June, 2007

Ever been told you are one in a million? If you are turning either 55 or 65 between May 2006 and June 2008, you soon will be.

Phase one of the Federal Government's National Bowel Cancer Screening Program is now underway with around one million men and women being urged to screen for a disease that kills 90 Australians every week.

As part of Bowel Cancer Awareness Week, The Cancer Council Victoria is encouraging all eligible Victorians to take part in the free testing program. In the first phase 260 000 Victorians will receive a simple, at-home kit in the post to test their bowel motion for possible early signs of bowel cancer.

The Cancer Council Victoria's Director, Professor David Hill said that if detected early enough 90 per cent of bowel cancer cases are curable.

Professor Hill said, "While Pap testing and mammograms have been available to women for many years, this is the first time both men and women have been included in a national, population-based cancer screening program. The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program has the potential to save more lives each year than breast and cervical screening combined.

"Around one million people are being targeted in the first phase of the program. However, when the program is running at full capacity, we estimate more than five million people, including over a million Victorians, will be eligible for regular bowel cancer screening. The Cancer Council is urging all Victorians targeted in this first phase to take part to ensure the ongoing success of the program."

The Cancer Council recommends all Victorians over 50 who are not eligible for the National Program speak to their GP or call the Cancer Helpline on 13 11 20 for more information about obtaining a FOBT.


Who is eligible for the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program?

All Australians turning 55 or 65 between 1 May 2006 and 30 June 2008 and all those involved in the Pilot Program in 2002/04, regardless of where they now live in Australia. (The pilot area in Victoria covered Melbourne postcodes 3070, 3071, 3078, 3079, 3081, 3083, 3084, 3085, 3087, 3088. This area comprises ten suburbs: Northcote, Thornbury, Fairfield, Ivanhoe, Heidelberg West, Bundoora, Rosanna, Macleod, Watsonia and Greensborough.)

How does the program work?

All Australians eligible for the first phase of The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program will be sent a Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) kit in the mail. The simple test is done at home and mailed to a laboratory for analysis. The test will look for small amounts of blood in the participants' bowel motions, which could be, but is not always, an indication of bowel cancer. People who return a positive FOBT test result will be referred to their GP for further testing.

Preventing bowel cancer

Bowel cancer claims the lives of 90 Australians every week - that is more than three times the national road toll.  While screening is effective at detecting early signs of bowel cancer, prevention plays a vital role in tackling onset of the disease.

New Cancer Council research shows a strong link between obesity and cancer. A 20-year Victorian study, involving over 40,000 participants, reveals a waistline measurement of over 100cm for men, and 85cm for women, significantly increases risk of cancer, including bowel cancer.

"People who exceed these measurements should look at implementing lifestyle changes to help reduce their cancer risk," said Professor Hill. "Lifestyle changes such as eating more fresh fruit and vegetables and including exercise in your daily life will help. While early detection is important, taking preventative steps to reduce the risk of bowel cancer is equally important."

 Bowel cancer symptoms

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.

If you notice any of these symptoms it's important that you see your doctor. In most cases they will have been caused by something other than cancer, but if they are related to bowel cancer, early detection will give you the best chance of cure.

The Cancer Council recommends all Victorians over 50 who are not yet eligible for the national program should speak to their GP about screening for bowel cancer.

Bowel cancer survivor: testimonial

Victorian bowel cancer survivor, Bill Simpson is a strong advocate of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. Bill was diagnosed with bowel cancer after he noticed a significant amount of blood following a bowel motion.

"I was very lucky that my symptoms were obvious - if I hadn't had a bleed I might not have known about my bowel cancer until it was too late. An FOBT can detect bowel cancer in its early stages even when no obvious symptoms are present. So if you are one of the Victorians eligible to receive an FOBT, don't ignore it. Take the time to complete the test in the comfort of your own home and it could save your life", said Bill.

For further information visit the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program or call the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program Information line on 1800 118 868.

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

See our Obesity Prevention Campaign

Multilingual information is also available on various cancer education issues.


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