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Cancer Council aims to combat nation’s second biggest cancer killer

Monday 4 March, 2019

With only four in 10 eligible Australians participating in Australia’s National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, Cancer Council has launched an urgent call for more Australians to complete the free life-saving test.

Launching today, the national campaign, funded by a $10 million Federal Government grant, will be the biggest campaign ever run in Australia to promote bowel cancer screening. It will include two TV advertisements, one which has already proven its lifesaving potential in Victoria.

Todd Harper, CEO, Cancer Council Victoria believes the campaign will replicate the success of the 2017 Victorian campaign on a national scale and ultimately save thousands more lives.

“New research shows that the Cancer Council Victoria 2017 campaign resulted in approximately 12,500 extra Victorians screening for bowel cancer during the seven-week campaign period, potentially saving more than 300 people from developing bowel cancer and more than 180 from dying of bowel cancer.”

“If we can increase the number of eligible Australians doing the test from 4 in 10 to 6 in 10, around 84,000 Australian lives could be saved in the next 20 years.”

Anita Dessaix, Chair, Public Health Committee, Cancer Council Australia said that Australia’s National Bowel Cancer Screening Program promised to be one of the most important cancer control initiatives in Australian history – but more Australians needed to take part.

“Bowel cancer is Australia’s second biggest cancer killer. Many people don’t realise it kills more Australians each year than breast, prostate or skin cancer. When you receive the test don’t put it in the cupboard and forget about it - delaying can easily become ignoring, forgetting and ultimately not doing.”

“The test is quick, simple and you can complete it in the comfort of your own home. We know that after doing the test, 77 per cent of people go on to repeat the test when next invited.”

The bowel cancer screening test detects blood in poo, which can be a sign of pre-cancerous lesions and cancers in the early stages and often these don’t have any symptoms. 90 per cent of bowel cancer cases can be successfully treated if caught in the early stages.

The mass media campaign, which includes TV, radio, digital and social media advertising, will run over three separate seven-week bursts in 2019, with further communications support from Cancer Council, including outreach to GPs to encourage them to get their patients to do the test.

Tailored materials for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians will also be incorporated and advertisements are also being developed in Greek, Arabic, Italian, Cantonese and Mandarin.

The Australian Government commenced a phased-in roll-out of Australia’s free screening program in 2006, with the final two age groups (52 and 56-year olds) added to the program for the first time this year. This means in 2019, people aged 50, 52, 54, 56, 58, 60, 62, 64, 66, 68, 70, 72 and 74 will be sent the free test in the mail.

From next year, free bowel screening kits will be sent on a two-yearly basis to all eligible Australians aged 50 to 74.

For more information about the bowel screening campaign visit

Belle’s story

Belle Leard received the bowel screening test shortly after her 50th birthday. She thought she was too young and healthy to worry, so ignored the test.

Six months later she was diagnosed with stage 2 bowel cancer. She wishes she had completed the test when it arrived in her mail box.

“I heard those words no-one ever wants to hear ‘You have cancer’. I was totally blind-sided – I thought I was going to die.” Belle said.

She thinks we need to dispel the myth that only old people get bowel cancer – her story shows why it’s important to start testing from the age of 50 when you receive your kit in the mail.

“The test takes a few minutes and could save your life. Don’t ignore it like I did.”