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Less than half take home bowel cancer test despite high awareness

Wednesday 8 June, 2011
  • Less than half of those who have heard of FOBT have done the test (41%)
  • Less than ¼ of those aged 50+ recall their GP mentioning bowel screening

New Cancer Council research released today shows although more than 80% of people aged 50+ are aware of a simple, at-home screening test for bowel cancer, less than half of those aware of FOBT have actually done the test.

The research, conducted in Victoria, also found that most respondents (75%) could not recall their GP ever mentioning the faecal occult blood test (FOBT) to them. FOBT is recommended for all Australians 50+ every two years. Under the government's National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, the test is provided free for people turning 50, 55 and 65. It is also available for purchase from other sources, such as pharmacies.

Chair of Cancer Council Australia's Bowel Cancer Screening Committee, Anita Tang, said it was encouraging to see greater awareness of FOBT, however public health authorities were concerned it had not translated into higher levels of testing. Of particular concern, was poor promotion by GPs.

"Nearly all (94%) respondents saw their GP at least once in the previous 12 months, yet less than a quarter said their doctor had mentioned doing an FOBT," she said. "We know from previous research that nine in ten people say they would take up screening if recommended by their doctor.

Ms Tang said the most common reason given for not using an FOBT was "previous bowel tests", most commonly colonoscopy. This suggested a large number of people were being referred for colonoscopy - a full-day procedure that requires fasting and sedation - when the simple at-home test (FOBT) might be appropriate.

"There also appears to be confusion about the role of screening, with some people citing a lack of symptoms as the reason for not doing an FOBT, despite the fact the test is aimed at finding pre-cancerous lesions or bowel cancers which often develop without warning signs."

Cancer Council, the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners recommend those without symptoms or a family history screen with an FOBT at least every two years from the age of 50.

Ms Tang acknowledged GPs were hard-pressed to include all health messages in a consultation, but urged them to make FOBT screening a routine recommendation for all patients 50 and over.

"Bowel cancer is this nation's second biggest cancer killer after lung cancer, yet 90% of cases can be cured if found early. It's important those aged 50+ have access to screening, and that everyone is aware of symptoms, regardless of age, so they can report any unusual changes to their doctor."