Men are putting themselves at greater risk of bowel cancer

Tuesday 2 October, 2007
Men are putting their lives at risk by not participating in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program.

"The national register shows a concerning disparity between the numbers of men and women screening for bowel cancer. Figures reveal that 21 per cent fewer men are participating in the program, yet 50 per cent more men are returning positive tests," said manager of Cancer Education Programs at The Cancer Council Victoria, Alison Peipers.

"Not only are far fewer men screening, but the test results for men are worse, suggesting that men need it most. We already know that bowel cancer occurs more in men - one in 17 Victorian men will develop bowel cancer in their lifetime, compared with one in 25 Victorian women," said Ms Peipers.

Screening for bowel cancer involves completing a faecal occult blood test (FOBT), which looks for traces of blood in the bowel motion that could be, but is not always, an early sign of bowel cancer.

"Ninety per cent of bowel cancers can be cured if caught early yet many Victorian men are failing to complete this simple, life-saving test they can do in the comfort of their own home," added Ms Peipers.

The Australian Government's new National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, which began in Victoria in January 2007, is the first cancer screening program to target both men and women. Victorians who are eligible for the program (those turning either 55 or 65 between May 2006 and June 2008, and those who participated in the pilot program*) are sent a free FOBT in the mail.

"While it's great that eligible women are taking the opportunity to participate in the national program, the alarm bells should now be ringing for men. Women are more familiar with the concept of screening thanks to the success of programs such as PapScreen Victoria and BreastScreen Victoria. We need to achieve this same level of understanding among men - that screening for cancer saves lives," said Ms Peipers.

More than 1,000 Victorian lives are lost to bowel cancer each year - yet many deaths could be prevented through early detection. The national program has the potential to reduce deaths from bowel cancer among the eligible population by up to 30 per cent.

"Bowel cancer claims the lives of about 90 Australians every week -more than three times the national road toll. That is why its is so important that we have the program," said Ms Peipers.

"This program could potentially save more lives than breast and cervical screening combined, but in order for it to continue we need all eligible Victorians to take part by completing this simple test.

"To complement the National Program, the Cancer Council Victoria has made it possible for Victorians over 50 to purchase an FOBT at a cost of $28, or $20 for pensioners and health care card holders, through the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20 or via our website at www.cancervic.org.au/fobt," said Ms Peipers.

The Cancer Council Victoria recommends screening with an FOBT every two years over the age of 50 for people without symptoms and without a significant family history of bowel cancer. It is important for those experiencing symptoms that could be a sign of bowel cancer**, and those with a close family history of the disease, to make an appointment to see their doctor.

Background Information

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 participant's 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.

What is the Cancer Council Victoria's Bowel Cancer Early Detection Program?

The Cancer Council recommends that everyone over fifty, without symptoms and without a significant family history of bowel cancer, screen for bowel cancer every two years using an FOBT. It is important for those experiencing symptoms that could be a sign of bowel cancer** and those with a close family history of the disease to make an appointment to see their doctor. To complement the National Program, the Cancer Council Victoria has made it possible for all Victorians over fifty to purchase an FOBT at a cost of $28 ($20 for pensioners and health care card holders) through the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20 or via its website: www.cancervic.org.au/fobt.

Preventing Bowel Cancer
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 Victorians, reveals a waistline measurement of over 100cm for men, and 85cm for women, significantly increases the 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 you see your doctor. In most cases their cause will be something other than cancer, but if they are related to bowel cancer, early detection will give you the best chance of cure.

For further information about bowel cancer and screening visit the Cancer Council website at: www.cancervic.org.au or call the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20.
For further information about the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program visit the program website at: www.cancerscreening.gov.au or call 1800 118 868.