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Just poo it: Over 50s urged to stop ignoring the bowel cancer home screening test

Friday 27 July, 2018
Cancer Council says investment in bowel cancer screening is needed to increase participation and save lives 
Bowel cancer screening public education campaigns could prevent more than 1000 Victorians from dying from bowel cancer and almost 2000 bowel cancer cases, if the campaign is sustained over four years, according to new analysis reported by Cancer Council Victoria.  
Cancer Council says that more sustained public education campaigns are needed to increase participation in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program and save lives. 

Its latest bowel cancer screening campaign launches this weekend.
Bowel cancer claims the lives of more than 4300 Australians a year, which is more than breast, prostate or skin cancer. 

“Bowel cancer is one of our biggest cancer killers,” said Kate Broun, manager of screening at Cancer Council Victoria.  
“The Australian Government sends a free home screening test to the homes of people aged 50-74 every two years to help find bowel cancer early. Sadly the test is ignored by 59 per cent of the population. 

“This complacency is a real tragedy; people who are invited and do not participate in the screening program are twice as likely to die from bowel cancer, compared to those who do participate.i

“Bowel cancer screening helps to find cancer early, at a time when 90 per cent of cases can be successfully treated. 

“The test may sound unappealing, but in reality it’s quick and easy. It’s nothing compared to the heartbreak of finding cancer too late.” 

The organisation’s first campaign in 2017 resulted in approximately 12,500 extra Victorians screening for bowel cancer, potentially saving more than 200 people from experiencing and more than 100 from dying of bowel cancer.   

The new economic analysis carried out by Cancer Council NSW looked at the results and cost effectiveness of the 2017 campaign and projected the impact of expanding over four years. It found that growing the campaign would be cost effective and save even more lives. 

Cancer Council Victoria CEO Todd Harper said that help from state and federal governments is required for such a campaign to reach its full potential. 

“The analysis showed that an estimated 1070 cancer deaths and 1990 cancer cases in Victoria could be prevented if the campaign is on air three times a year for four years,” Mr Harper said. 
“With a cost-effectiveness ratio of $5,500 per life-year saved, the campaign is considered to be excellent value for money and well under the benchmark of $30,000 for prevention initiatives. 

“All governments need to commit to invest in bowel cancer screening education, given the clear evidence of the impact of screening in saving lives and the strength of the economic evidence.” 

“Sustained funding of bowel cancer screening media and education campaigns would lead to a major return on investment for governments, in the health and wellbeing of the community and through money saved.” 

Cancer Council Victoria’s donor-funded campaign – Do the home test, it could save your life – will air on radio, TV and online for ten weeks from Sunday 29 July. 
For details visit or call 13 11 20. 

People aged 50-74 can call the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program Infoline on 1800 118 868 to find out when they will receive a free test. 

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About the analysis  
Cancer Council Victoria collaborated with Cancer Council NSW who undertook an economic evaluation of the 2017 public education campaign. Preliminary analysis found that:
  • The 2017 campaign was highly cost-effective, with a cost-effectiveness ratio of $1,850 per life-year saved (well under the indicative $30,000 willingness-to-pay threshold for prevention initiatives), demonstrating the campaign was excellent value for money.  
  • A total of 222 cancers and 122 cancer deaths were estimated to be prevented in the lifetime of the target cohort (people who were invited to participate in NBCSP in 2017 during the campaign period in Victoria)

Further cost effective analysis show that a four-year campaign (2019-2022) with three bursts of advertising per year in Victoria would result in:

  • A highly cost-effective intervention, associated with a cost-effectiveness ratio of $5,500 per life-year saved. 
  • A total of 1,990 cancers and 1,070 cancer deaths were estimated to be prevented in the lifetime of the target cohort (Victorians who were aged between 50-74 years in 2019-2022).

The modelling

  • The analysis used the Policy1-Bowel microsimulation platform, developed at CCNSW.
  • For further information about the model please refer to: “Long-term evaluation of benefits, harms, and costeffectiveness of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program in Australia: a modelling study,” Lancet Public Health 2017; 2: e331–40, July 2017. Available from:

i. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2018. Analysis of bowel cancer outcomes for the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program: 2018. Cat. no. CAN 113. Canberra: AIHW