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Australian Government's $50m investment in bowel screening will save thousands of lives

Monday 7 May, 2012

Cancer Council Victoria has welcomed the Federal Government's decision to expand the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, saying the $49.7 million investment will save the lives of thousands of Victorians.

Bowel cancer is Australia's second biggest cancer killer, claiming the lives of more than 4,000 people each year, including more than 1,300 Victorians, yet almost 90% of bowel cancers can be treated successfully if it is caught early enough.

Cancer Council Victoria CEO, Mr Todd Harper, says expanding the national bowel cancer screening program will ensure more cancers are caught early and reduce the growing number of lives that are lost to bowel cancer each year.

"The bowel cancer screening test is cheap, simple and effective," he says. "The test helps detect bowel cancer early, which is often the difference between being able to treat the cancer with little complication, or having to subject patients to painful treatments, high costs, and unimaginable stress."

In 2010, almost 50% of the bowel cancers diagnosed in Victorians had either Stage 3 or Stage 4 disease.

"An expanded national bowel cancer screening program will clearly have an effect on reducing the number of late stage bowel cancers, which will significantly improve the chances of survival," says Mr Harper. "It is one of the best things the Australian Government can do to reduce the nation's cancer burden in the short and longer term."

Mr Harper added that as well as saving many lives, the decision to extend the program made good economic sense because of the high cost of treating bowel cancer with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, compared with the relatively cheaper screening test and procedures.

The current screening program has only been available to people turning 50, 55 and 65 years old. The Government has announced that the program will gradually be extended over the next five years, with the test ultimately being made available to every Australian between the ages of 50 and 74, every two years, from 2017-18.