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Media Release

Australia’s disadvantaged fall behind in bowel cancer

July 31, 2019

New Cancer Council analysis has shown Australians living in our most disadvantaged areas have significantly higher bowel cancer incidence rates and are being left behind in bowel cancer screening, compared to the most advantaged Australians. 

The Australian Cancer Atlas shows nearly a quarter (21%) of the most disadvantaged regions in Australia have a higher than average incidence of bowel cancer, compared to less than 1% of our most advantaged regions. 

Simultaneously, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data from the 2018 National Bowel Cancer Screening Program Monitoring Report has shown participation rates for the bowel screening program were highest for people living in the most advantaged areas (43%), and lowest for people living in the most disadvantaged areas (39%). 

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program is designed to detect blood in the stool, which can be a sign of cancer or pre-cancerous lesions. If found early, 90% of bowel cancers can be successfully treated. 

Professor Sanchia Aranda, CEO, Cancer Council Australia said, “Australia has some of the best cancer outcomes in the world however, our most disadvantaged Australians are falling behind. 

“We know that the most disadvantaged Australians, many of whom live in regional and remote areas, are one third more likely to die from bowel cancer than Australians living in the most advantaged areas. Participating in the screening program is one of the best things eligible Australians can do to reduce their risk of dying from bowel cancer.” 

“The disparity between our most and least advantaged regions returning their bowel cancer screening test kits shows that even though the free test is being sent to Australians aged 50-74, we need to ensure all Australians know what the test is and why it is important, so that they do it when it is sent to them in the mail. 

Professor Aranda continued, “In addition to lifting screening rates, we also need to be educating Australians about the factors that influence your risk of developing bowel cancer and those factors we can change. 

“Lifestyle factors that can increase your risk of bowel cancer include poor diet, physical inactivity, alcohol, obesity and smoking.   

“Maintaining a healthy body weight, enjoying a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and limiting red and processed meats can all contribute to reducing your bowel cancer risk so we would encourage all Australians to take steps to make these changes.” 

Other factors such as older age, family history of bowel cancer and having conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease also increase the risk of bowel cancer. 

Currently only four in 10 eligible Australians participate in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. Studies have shown, if this figure is increased to six in 10 it could save 84,000 lives over the next 20 years. 

Free bowel screening tests are sent by the Australian government every two years to eligible Australians aged 50-74. 

All Australians should be aware of the symptoms of bowel cancer such as unexplained blood in their poo or toilet bowl, persistent changes in bowel habits, persistent abdominal pain or cramping, or unexplained weight loss, and get anything unusual checked out regardless of their age or when they last completed the screening test. 

Cancer Council’s national bowel cancer screening media campaign is funded through a $10 million Federal Government grant. 

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Media Enquiries
Please contact Tegan Brown in the Cancer Council Australia media team on (02) 8063 4109 or email media@cancer.org.au
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