GI cancer

Higher screening rate needed to prevent CRC deaths


More than 83,000 lives could be spared over the next 25 years if participation in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program increased by just 20%.

In the first study to model long-term outcomes of the program, Cancer Council NSW said the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) could be one of the most cost-effective and life-saving public health programs in Australia.

At the moment only about 40% of those who are eligible for screening participate in the program. At that level, an estimated 59,000 deaths will be prevented by 2040.

The number of deaths prevented over the same period could increase to 83,800 if participation rates of 60% or more were achieved in the target group of 50-74 year-olds.

The authors noted a 60% participation rate was not an unreasonable goal given similar rates had been achieved in cervical and breast cancer screening programs.

But Bowel Cancer Australia CEO Mr Julien Wiggins said participation in the $52 million program has remained stagnant at about 40% for the past 10 years.

He fears it is unlikely to change without a coordinated campaign to convince more people who receive the FOBT kit in the mail to actually have the test and follow it up.

“Currently 89% of people with a positive screen do not have a follow-up colonoscopy within the recommended 30 days in NSW,” Mr Wiggins revealed.

Meanwhile, other research conducted by Cancer Institute NSW found that one third of bowel cancer patients (32%) reported seeing four to six different types of health professionals, and 16% were seeing more than seven.

Yet 70% of patients did not have access to a cancer care coordinator during their treatment – a resource associated with better outcomes for cancer patients.

Mr Wiggins said it was ‘alarming’ that many bowel cancer patients ‘appear to be navigating the cancer care system on their own.’

Adding that the Federal Government has committed $52 million for dedicated breast nurse specialists and $12.1 million for prostate nurse specialists, Mr Wiggins said Bowel Cancer Australia was pushing the government to do more for bowel cancer patients.

“What is truly needed to save lives is a coordinated national communication strategy and campaign for bowel cancer screening, timely access to colonoscopy regardless of location, and the assurance that anyone diagnosed with bowel cancer can access a specialist nurse when needed.”

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