Time to hit the reset button on bowel cancer screening in Australia.
Bowel Cancer 2016 Challenge.
More than a decade after it was first piloted and with a current participation rate of just 38 per cent, Bowel Cancer Australia is urging all political parties to consider revamping the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) to better serve those aged 50 and over.
The program’s ability to save lives from the country’s second largest cause of cancer deaths is proven, but its five yearly screening for just four ages (50, 55, 60 and 65) continues to be a cause of concern.
Medical guidelines recommend at least two yearly screening for people aged 50-74 (est 5.9 million people), but only one million of these are currently eligible for the NBCSP resulting in some 4.9 million people missing out on the free, life-saving test.1
Bowel Cancer Australia chief executive Julien Wiggins said the upcoming federal election provided an opportunity to re-think the roll-out of the NBCSP to maximise its life-saving potential.
“We should not have a program where a 50 year old receives a free test kit while a 52 year old won’t even receive Government information about the potential need to screen,” said Mr Wiggins.
He said Australians were long overdue for an effective bowel cancer screening program as it had been 11 years since the NBCSP began its pilot and a ‘complete’ program was another 21 years away.
“England’s biennial bowel cancer screening program launched in 2006 and by 2012 was rolled out to people aged 60-69. By 2014, screening will be open to people aged 60-74 while our NBCSP will be open to only four ages,” he added.
“In the meantime we have almost 4,000 men and women dying every year from this preventable disease.”
Bowel Cancer Australia is encouraging political parties to consider three key actions for bowel cancer screening:
- Reset the current NBCSP in 2014 from five yearly (50, 55, 60 and 65 years) to two yearly screening intervals (eg, 50, 52, 54, 56) as per medical guidelines.
- Accelerate the inclusion of new age groups to the screening program - 2034 is too long to wait for a complete program.
- Communicate bowel cancer information to those aged 50-74 so they know their risk and can take appropriate action.
“The ‘reset’ component aims to minimise confusion by bringing the NBCSP into line with medical recommendations of two yearly screening, not five. Mindful of budgetary implications, we have maintained only four ages in 2014.”
“Importantly, the millions of Australians who continue to be ineligible for the NBCSP need to be made aware of their bowel cancer risk and alternative ways to screen.”
“The Government has begun this process, but to reach all over 50s we suggest simply extending the bowel cancer information the Government already provides to those eligible for the NBCSP.”
Mr Wiggins said people who were ineligible for the NBCSP, could purchase BowelScreen Australia™ tests from many community pharmacies throughout the country. The BowelScreen Australia™ immunochemical test is the type used in the Government program.
“We would expect the proposed changes to improve knowledge and awareness of bowel cancer and screening, and boost the low participation rate of 38 per cent for the NBCSP,” said Mr Wiggins.
To download a copy of the 2016 Challenge visit Bowel Cancer 2016 Challenge.
The Bowel Cancer 2016 Challenge was released in March 2013.
1. Figure of 5.9m taken from ABS ‘Australian Demographic Statistics’. June Quarter 2012. 3101.0. Figure of 4.4m based on 1.5m kits said to be issued according to Proof Committee Hansard, Senate, Community Affairs Legislation Committee Estimates (public). Wednesday, 13 February 2013. Canberra.
Spotlight on Screening
- Overhaul the Program to restore public confidence following the faulty test kit debacle.
- Provide life saving screening to the 5.4 million Australians who are currently missing out.
- Implement a comprehensive national awareness campaign to promote participation in a fully operational Program.
- Prevent as many as 2,000 deaths from bowel cancer every year.
These delays continue to result in unnecessary deaths.
The Bowel Cancer 2012 Challenge
Bowel cancer is a major public health problem in Australia. One in 12 Australians will develop bowel cancer in their lifetime. The disease kills around 80 Australians every week.
It is the most common internal cancer to affect both men and women and is the second biggest cancer killer of Australians.
The Bowel Cancer 2012 Challenge was released in May 2009 by the National Bowel Cancer Coalition. It highlighted current problems and called for improved services and outcomes for bowel cancer patients in four key areas:
A coordinated, national awareness and education campaign to raise the profile of bowel cancer, proportional to the burden of the disease in Australia;
- Improved uptake of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, and its extension to include biennial screening for people aged 50+, in accordance with National Health & Medical Research Council guidelines;
- Resourcing for quick, accurate diagnosis and clinically effectively treatments at the right time in the right setting for all patients; and
- Recognition of the value of prolonged, quality life.
The Coalition aims to raise pubilc awareness of bowel cancer to reduce the number of Australians dying unnecessarily from this disease and improve patient outcomes of those diagnosed.
The Australian Government’s National Bowel Cancer Screening Program is a welcomed initiative, but we need to do more. National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines recommend screening for bowel cancer for people aged 50 and over at least every two years.
Early diagnosis is the only way we can save lives. Screening for bowel cancer has the potential to prevent as many as 2,000 deaths each year.
This 2012 Challenge outlines what we can do to reduce the number of unnecessary deaths.
Our challenge to the community and all levels of government is to work together to make this a reality so we can save thousands of lives every year.
Bowel cancer is not pretty but it’s pretty important that we do something about it.
To download a copy of the 2012 Challenge visit Bowel Cancer 2012 Challenge.
The Bowel Cancer 2012 Challenge was released in May 2009.