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Bowel cancer screening campaign saves Victorian lives

Thursday 24 May, 2018

A 2017 Cancer Council Victoria media campaign has led to approximately 12,500 extra Victorians screening for bowel cancer and potentially saved hundreds of lives.

Bowel cancer kills more than 1300 Victorians a year – as many as breast and prostate cancer combined – but nine in ten cases can be successfully treated if found early.

In light of these results Cancer Council has called on state and federal governments to show that they are serious about bowel cancer by investing in bowel cancer screening public education campaigns to increase participation.

Cancer Council has released the results of its largest ever bowel screening campaign on the day of its popular fundraising event, Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea.

The donor-funded campaign ran on TV, radio and digital media over seven weeks and urged people to complete the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program home screening test.

Analysis showed that test return rates increased from 42.7 to 57.2 per cent over the campaign period – an increase of almost 1400 tests a week – whereas there was no increase in the comparison state South Australia.

Cancer Council Victoria Manager of Screening Kate Broun said the results showed that investment in public education campaigns can save lives.

“The increase in screening that resulted from our campaign helped to save hundreds of Victorians from the devastating consequences of finding cancer too late, such as aggressive chemotherapy, treatments, surgery or death,” Ms Broun said.

“The extra screening tests likely led to the detection of 26 extra bowel cancers, as well as an additional 93 adenomas and 187 polyps, both of which are potentially pre-cancerous.

“The campaign will continue to save lives into the future. Over three quarters of those who screened for the first time are likely to rescreen in two years when next invited.

“We were able to potentially save these lives thanks to the generous support of donors who funded the campaign, but this is not sustainable in the long term; governments need to step up.” 1.9 million Australians ignored the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program’s free, lifesaving test in the two years between 2015 and 2016.

“If our state and federal governments are serious about improving the health of the community, they need to invest in sustained campaigns to drive participation in screening and increase knowledge of the significance of the disease,” Ms Broun said.

Cancer Council Victoria CEO Todd Harper said the success of the Victorian campaign should be a driver for governments to invest in public education.

“Based on the analysis of the successful Victorian campaign, a minimum investment of $10 million over four years in Victoria, and a commensurate investment nationally, is required to fund a sustainable bowel cancer screening public education campaign that will save money and save lives,” Mr Harper said.

“Bowel cancer is our second biggest cancer killer, but it can be successfully treated in 90 per cent of cases if found early.

“Increasing participation in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program will help the Victorian Government reach its goal of halving the proportion of preventable cancers by 2040.” Mr Harper said both state and federal governments have an opportunity to increase participation through media and public education interventions.

“The results are clear – sustained, long term investment in bowel cancer screening campaigns saves lives and improves health outcomes for Victorians and Australians,” he said.

“Increasing participation in Australia to 60 per cent would prevent more than 129,000 bowel cancer diagnoses and 83,000 bowel cancer deaths in Australia up to 2040.” Cancer Council Victoria’s campaign was made possible thanks to the generosity of donors, who support cancer prevention, research and support through events like Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea.

To support Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea visit or call 1300 65 65 85.

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program invites people aged between 50 and 74 to screen for bowel cancer using a home screening test. From 2019, the test will be sent every two years.