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What you don't know about bowel cancer can hurt you

Monday 30 June, 2008

A new study by The Cancer Council Victoria has revealed almost one quarter (24%) of Victorians aged 50 to 75 can not name a single sign or symptom of bowel cancer. And more than one third (35%) have never heard of a faecal occult blood test (FOBT), the potentially life-saving, bowel cancer screening test.

NHMRC* guidelines recommend FOBT screening at least every 2 years for everyone over 50. However, of those surveyed aged 50 to 75 who had heard of an FOBT (65%), less than a quarter (22%) reported their doctor had mentioned it to them.

"Bowel cancer kills around 80 Australians each week, and is the most common internal cancer affecting both men and women in Australia. We know nearly all cases can be cured if found early enough, yet our research shows a worrying level of ignorance about symptoms and prevention among those 50 and over, when the risk of bowel cancer is greatest," said Chair of the Cancer Council's National Bowel Cancer Committee, Alison Peipers.

"GPs are perfectly placed to educate their patients about bowel cancer, including what it is, what the symptoms are and how it can be prevented through screening and a healthy lifestyle. However, our research reveals an alarming number of GPs are not broaching the topic with patients who are at risk," said Ms Peipers.

"As the second leading cause of cancer deaths, bowel cancer is an important public health issue and clearly, vital health messages are not getting through. However, education should not be left solely to GPs. The Government, health organisations and the media all have a role to play in increasing public awareness of bowel cancer and promoting the benefits of early detection.

"Greater knowledge and understanding will not only help to de-stigmatise bowel cancer, but will also drive public acceptance of the national bowel cancer screening program which has the potential to save 30 lives a week when rolled out in full," said Ms Peipers.


From 1 July 2008, all Australians turning 50, 55 or 65 before 31 December 2010 will receive a free FOBT as phase two of the Australian Government's National Bowel Cancer Screening Program commences. Those over 50 who are not eligible for the national program can order an FOBT from this website ( or by calling the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20.*

The Cancer Council welcomes the expansion of the program and is now calling on the Government to honour its commitment to screen all Australians 50 and over.

*The Cancer Council does not profit from the sale of FOBTs, and it partially subsidises the cost of FOBTs for pensioners and healthcare card holders.