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  • Australian lives would be saved with faster rollout of national bowel cancer screening program, says world expert

    08 May 2013

    A world expert in cancer screening has encouraged the Australian Government to speed up the rollout of its national bowel cancer screening program, which would increase the number of early diagnoses and save hundreds of lives.

    In Adelaide for the 11th Behavioural Research in Cancer Control Conference which starts at the Crowne Plaza today, Dr Heather Bryant, Vice President of Cancer Control at the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, says every effort should be made to accelerate screening programs for bowel cancer (also known as colorectal cancer), which claims around 80 Australian lives every week.

    “We now know that early detection leads to fewer cases of bowel cancer and better outcomes for those who are diagnosed with the disease,” said Dr Bryant.

    “Moves by the Australian Government to expand the existing national bowel cancer screening program are a step in the right direction, but not fully implementing the program until 2035 is not ideal.

    “If the program was rolled out faster, Australia could expect a much higher rate of early diagnoses and in turn a major reduction in the number of bowel cancer deaths each year.”

    Currently, the Federal Government’s national bowel cancer screening program is only available every five years for people turning 50, 55, 60 and 65. The Government has proposed to extend the free service to every two years for people aged 50-74, in line with the National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines, however it will not be fully implemented until 2035.

    Dr Bryant says like Australia, bowel cancer in Canada is one of the most common forms of cancer and that life saving, population-based bowel cancer screening programs are now underway in every province.

    “In Canada we have established the National Colorectal Cancer Screening Network, which is building momentum towards a shared approach to bowel cancer screening across the country,” she said, adding that half of Canadians aged 50-74 have now been screened for bowel cancer.

    “We know that screening people who have no signs or symptoms of the diseases is extremely important because bowel cancer often develops from a benign polyp and can be prevented when these polyps are discovered early and removed.

    “The longer these polyps go undetected the greater the risk of developing bowel cancer, so checking regularly through screening is our best line of defence against what is a highly treatable disease if caught early.

    “There has been great progress in cancer screening over the past couple of decades and we’ve seen changes in mortality from breast and cervical cancer as a result. With effective screening programs in place, we can make similar progress with bowel cancer.”

    Professor Brenda Wilson, Chief Executive of Cancer Council SA, welcomed Dr Bryant to Adelaide commenting that “it is great to attract someone with such a breadth of expertise in screening to this important conference, especially at a time when the Australian Government needs to be informed about the importance of rolling out the full National Bowel Cancer Screening Program well ahead of its scheduled 2035 timeframe”.

    In Australia, bowel cancer is the second most common cause of death from cancer after lung cancer. There are more than 11,000 new cases of bowel cancer every year and 4,600 deaths annually.

    Dr Bryant’s presentation today at the 11th Behavioural Research in Cancer Control Conference will be among dozens of presentations over the next three days by leading cancer experts from around the country and overseas.

    The conference, hosted by Cancer Council SA, will provide a platform for top behavioural researchers to share their latest research findings to help inform future population health strategies particularly aimed at reducing cancer prevalence and distress within the community.

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