New research released today confirms that thousands of Australians are missing out on a lifesaving bowel cancer screening test because of delays in federal funding.
The new National Bowel Cancer Screening Program monitoring report, released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, shows that between July 2008 and June 2011 the program detected more than 4000 cases of precancerous polyps and early-stage cancers that might otherwise have become fatal.
CEO of Cancer Council Australia, Professor Ian Olver, said the results emphasised the program’s life-saving potential and the urgent need for expansion in the 2012-13 federal budget.
“Bowel cancer is one of the easiest cancers to treat if found early, yet it is Australia’s second biggest cancer killer because not enough cases are detected at early-stage,” he said.
“Many of the 4000 precancerous polyps and early-stage cancers picked up by the program over the reporting period could have developed into advanced bowel cancer and caused death.”
Professor Olver said the 4000 cases were the “tip of the iceberg”, because the screening program is only available to people turning 50, 55 and 65 as a one-off test, rather than to all Australians aged 50 and over every two years as recommended. The reporting period also covered a six-month program suspension while faulty kits were being checked.
“So imagine how many more lives we could save if the program was extended beyond the three age groups that are currently eligible, and run continuously,” Professor Olver said.
The 40% participation rate among those eligible also reflected underinvestment in the program.
“If the screening program had been more widely available, the government might have also invested in promoting it, to encourage greater participation,” Professor Olver said.
“The program’s introduction was a bipartisan election commitment in 2004 – nearly eight years later we’re still waiting for it to go beyond three age groups. No wonder the government isn’t doing much to raise public awareness of the program, given its current lack of reach.”
Cancer Council Australia is calling for a $15 million expansion to the program to add people aged 60 and 70 from July 20.
Read the submission here.