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Screening saves lives

Tuesday 10 August 2021

Bowel cancer is a silent killer taking too many Australian lives – the key to stopping the alarming rates of bowel cancer is prevention and early detection through bowel cancer screening.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data estimates 15,494 people being diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2020, making bowel cancer the fourth most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia.

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program aims to see those numbers decline through the early detection of polyps, adenomas and bowel cancer.

PA Hospital (PAH) based Health Promotion Officer Nicole Marinucci said bowel cancer screening is not only simple and effective but available for all men and women aged 50-74.

"Bowel cancer screening is just another healthy person's check. It is recommended that people aged between 50 and 74 participate in life saving bowel cancer screening every two years."

PA Hospital's Director of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Professor Gerald Holtmann reaffirmed the importance of the screening program's potential to save lives.

PA Hospital's Director of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Professor Gerald Holtmann with the Bowel Cancer Screening Kit.

"The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program is one of the real true preventative health programs we have in Australia. We often purely focus on curing disease, but prevention is so much better. We have the ability to prevent bowel cancer occurring through the early detection of polyps and adenomas," he said.

"The link between early diagnosis and better health outcomes for patients can mean the difference between life and death. Early diagnosis often means curing bowel cancer or even preventing the manifestation of malignancy altogether."

"The Bowel Cancer Screening Program saves many lives" said Professor Holtmann. "It is a highly sensitive and highly specific test, that is very good at detecting hidden blood in the stool. This can be an indicator of precancerous lesions or early onset bowel cancer.

Nicole said part of the challenge with bowel cancer is overcoming the sense of shame or embarrassment people can feel when it comes to talking about their bowels or engaging in bowel screening.

"People can be embarrassed to go and talk to their doctors about any mild symptoms or changes they might be experiencing. It's time we normalised bowel health and bowel cancer prevention" she said.

Nicole said a big part of her role as a Health Promotion Officer is promoting participation in bowel cancer screening.

"The bowel cancer screening kits or faecal occult blood test should be viewed just like going to the dentist and getting your teeth checked or getting your mammograms and pap smears or prostate and skin checks. We all know that these are just simple checks that we all have to do regularly to keep ourselves healthy," she said.

The Australian Government is sending free bowel cancer screening kits in the mail to everyone that has a Medicare registered address, every two years. It arrives in the mail, and it is completed in the privacy of your own home.

With one in 10 men and one in 14 Queensland women diagnosed with bowel cancer, Professor Holtmann said the PAH continues to undertake research into bowel cancer but stressed that early detection remains key to better outcomes for bowel cancer patients.

"Research and quality improvement is of great importance to us in the Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. Clinical quality improvement can focus on anything from the tolerance and quality of bowel preparation to ensuring participation rates are maximised across all of our priority populations," he said.

"The equitable access to our service and to the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program is essential to the successful treatment and prevention of bowel cancer."