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Cancer Council Victoria project increases bowel screening in South Eastern Melbourne

Wednesday 27 October, 2021

New data shows Cancer Council Victoria’s targeted project, funded by the South Eastern Melbourne PHN (SEMPHN) to increase bowel screening in the catchment contributed to an additional 14,940 people completing the free bowel screening test, more than doubling the project’s original target of 7,000 additional test kits returned in two years.  

With only 42.8 per cent of people living in the SEMPHN catchment participating in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, Cancer Council Victoria launched an urgent call to eligible Victorians aged 50 to 74 years to complete the free life-saving test.

Launching in January 2019, the project’s primary objective was to increase bowel screening across South Eastern Melbourne, with a particular focus among the local government areas of Mornington Peninsula, Casey and Greater Dandenong.

The project’s three-fold approach included information, resources and support to develop promotional strategies to general practices about the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, educating eligible members of the community to increase their knowledge and willingness to screen, and raising awareness of bowel cancer screening through media and communication strategies, including tailored materials for culturally diverse communities.

Kate Broun, Head of Cancer Screening, Early Detection and Immunisation at Cancer Council Victoria said the positive results demonstrated the importance of targeted, long-term projects like these to combat low bowel cancer screening rates and foster equitable health outcomes.

“We believe that all Victorians, regardless of language spoken or cultural background should have access to health information that meets their needs so that they can understand the importance of bowel cancer screening,” Ms Broun said.

“In addition to our mass media activities we were able to reach key multicultural groups through targeted education sessions about the importance of bowel screening, along with instructions and support on how to complete the bowel kit when it arrived in the mail.”

“Almost all respondents of those surveyed as part of the project evaluation reported that their understanding and awareness of bowel cancer screening had increased as a result of the education session they attended, and that they felt more confident to complete their bowel screening kit.”

Cancer Council Victoria worked in partnership with Professor Jon Emery, Herman Professor of Primary Care Cancer Research at the University of Melbourne to lead the GP and health professional engagement component of the Project.

Academic detailing was provided to 125 participating general practices across the Mornington Peninsula, Casey, Stonnington and Greater Dandenong LGAs, along with a comprehensive toolkit to encourage promotion of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program to eligible patients.

Professor Jon Emery said, “GPs play a key role in lifting screening participation rates, whether it’s through encouraging patients to do the home-test; explaining what is involved in the test; dispelling myths or sending letters or text messages to patients who are about to receive the test.”

“GPs are well-trusted sources of health information in our multicultural communities, they are integral to the success of this campaign and the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program.”

As a result of the training as well as disseminating resources to primary care settings across the SEMPHN catchment, those involved reported improved knowledge and confidence to promote bowel cancer screening. Many general practice staff were highly engaged and interested in learning more about the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program and how they could promote it to their patients.

The positive results come at a time when new data from Cancer Council Victoria’s Victorian Cancer Registry showed a significant decrease of 17% of bowel cancer incidence during the first nine months of 2020, compared to the same time the previous year. It’s possible this decline is a result of not completing the free bowel screening test kit, delayed presentation to a GP with symptoms and/or access to colonoscopy. The data has prompted Cancer Council Victoria to launch a mass media campaign urging eligible Victorians aged 50 to 74 years to prioritise their health and complete the free bowel screening test today.

For more information about bowel screening, visit bowelcancer.org.au and for resources in languages other than English, visit www.cancervic.org.au/languages.