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Aboriginal people urged to screen for bowel cancer

Monday 26 September, 2011
  • Cancer Council Victoria and the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) sign MOU
  • New bowel cancer screening resources launched

Cancer Council Victoria and the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) today signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in a move to improve outcomes for Aboriginal Victorians with cancer.

Cancer Council Victoria CEO Todd Harper, VACCHO CEO Jill Gallagher and VACCHO Chairperson Andrew Gardiner, signed the MOU in a special ceremony this morning.

Mr Harper said the MOU was a symbol of both Cancer Council Victoria's and VACCHO's commitment to improve cancer survival rates of Aboriginal Victorians.

"Figures from a study published in 2007* show Aboriginal Australians have a 45% higher death rate from cancer compared to the rest of the Australian population," Mr Harper said.

"This is simply not acceptable. We must work together to ensure every community in Australia benefits from improvements in the prevention, detection and treatment of cancer," he said.

Cancer Council Victoria figures also show that the most common cancer diagnosed in Aboriginal people in Victoria is bowel cancer. Around 17.5% of all cancers diagnosed (between 2005 and 2009) in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Victorians were bowel cancers.

Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in Australia - claiming the lives of 73 men and women - regardless of their background each week. It's a shocking statistic given that 90% of bowel cancers can be cured if detected early.

Jill Gallagher, a Gunditjmara woman, is the CEO of VACCHO and a bowel cancer survivor. Her story is part of Cancer Council Victoria's newest resources for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people launched today.

Ms Gallagher said it was extremely important for Aboriginal men and women aged 50 and older to do a bowel cancer screening test every two years.

"As a bowel cancer survivor I know how important it is to have regular screening and I urge all people 50 and over to have a bowel cancer screening test," Ms Gallagher said.

"Don't put it off because it can save your life."

"Aboriginal people should be encouraged to do all they can to prevent, detect and treat all forms of cancer and to support community members living with this condition", she said.

"Give up smoking, and have regular health checks at your Aboriginal community controlled health organisation or your local GP" she added. "With the help of Cancer Council, VACCHO will encourage all cancer programs to be culturally appropriate to better meet the needs of Aboriginal people.

"This is an important partnership because for too long we have seen higher rates of cancer and poorer outcomes among Victoria's Aboriginal community."

"Let's close this gap in the areas of cancer prevention, detection, support and treatment. Let's deliver programs in a targeted way, to an appropriate place, to the Aboriginal community where they are at." she said

Cancer Council Victoria's Cancer Screening Programs Manager Kate Broun said many people with the early stages of bowel cancer would not have any warning signs.

"Don't wait for the symptoms - by then your cancer could be at an advanced stage.

"And if you do notice anything unusual seek medical advice straight away," she said.

Symptoms can include a change in toilet habits such as loose bowel motions, constipation or bleeding after a bowel motion along with stomach pains.

"It's may not be a pleasant thing to talk about but it is so important for Aboriginal men and women to start the conversation about bowel cancer," Ms Broun said.

Everyone over 50 is encouraged to undertake a bowel cancer screening test called a Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT).

The test can be done in the comfort and privacy of your home and detects any blood in a bowel motion, which is often a symptom of bowel cancer.

Men and women aged 50, 55 and 65 will receive a free test kit as part of the National Bowel Screening Program.

People aged between 50 and 55, between 55 and 65 or are who older than 65, should talk to their doctor or health service about screening.
FOBT's can be purchased from Cancer Council Victoria at or by calling 13 11 20 or visiting selected pharmacies.

*Epidemiology of cancer in Indigenous Australians: implications for service delivery - David Roder, Research and Information Science, Cancer Council South Australia.