Proving that bowel cancer screening saves lives
23 June 2021
Australia has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world. Every day 42 Australians are diagnosed with bowel cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in Australia.
However, the good news is, when found early, over 90 per cent of bowel cancers can be successfully treated. This is why screening is so important. Bowel cancer screening is one of the most effective ways to detect early signs of cancer.
The National Bowel Screening Program was introduced in 2006. As of 2020, all Australians aged 50-74 years are sent a free screening test every two years. It is a simple, clean and easy screening test that people can do at home to detect cancer, often before symptoms appear. Test results will indicate what action, if any, is needed.
Cancer Council’s connection with bowel cancer screening dates to the 1970s. Thanks to over 40 years of research, advocacy and community engagement, bowel cancer death rates are positioned to plummet over the next 25 years.
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With participation rates below 40%, in 2019, Cancer Council delivered the National Bowel Cancer Screening Campaign, commissioned and funded by the Australian Government. The campaign’s aim was to boost awareness of, and participation in, the program by people in the target audience of 50-74 year olds. The campaign also placed emphasis on the under screened groups including men aged 50-59 years, selected culturally and linguistically diverse groups, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
The campaign has been extremely successful and was directly responsible for an additional 93,000 test kit returns. This means we were able to prevent 860 bowel cancer cases with 470 lives being saved over the next 50 years. On top of this, it will also save $46 million in direct healthcare costs from 2019 to 2070, delivering a huge return on investment. This means more money can be spent on preventative health measures.
But we can’t stop here. Increasing participation in the screening program is the best way to improve outcomes and save lives. Evidence shows that if we can increase participation from 40 per cent to 60 percent, we will be able to save 84,000 lives by 2040. As part of this, the Australian Government has funded Cancer Council to develop ongoing communications with the aim of increasing participation even more in coming years.
Cancer Council is proud of its proven track record of working with the Australian Government on bowel cancer screening initiatives and we will continue to work with the government to achieve greater participation in the free, life-saving program.
Cancer screening saves lives. By engaging with government and the wider community, we are getting closer to our goal of a cancer free future.