Election call for more cancer prevention
UP to one-third of the 39,000 lives now lost to cancer every year in Australia could be saved through better preventive measures, including extending the national bowel cancer screening program to all people aged over 50 by 2012.
The Cancer Council Australia this week called on both main parties to treat cancer as an election issue, and that extending bowel cancer screening to more people would help cut the toll from the disease — Australia’s second most common cancer for both men and women. The council also called for renewed efforts to combat tobacco use and more emphasis on reducing obesity, which is now recognised as having stronger links to cancer than previously thought.
Cancer Council CEO Ian Olver said cancer generally was the country’s ‘‘ most feared disease’’, diagnosed in 100,000 Australians per year. Controlling it ‘‘ should be high on the list of priorities for all parties (in) this federal election’’.
The bowel cancer screening program introduced last year , currently only covers people who turn 55 and 65 each year. People whose 55th and 65th birthdays fall in the current year are invited to participate. Those who choose to do so are sent a kit including a dipstick, which they use to take a tiny sample of their own stool.
The dipstick is then mailed off to be tested for microscopic traces of blood, called a foecal occult blood test. If positive, the patient then has to undergo a colonoscopy to determine if cancerous or pre-cancerous changes are in fact present.
Labor has already pledged to extend the screening program by including people whose 50th birthdays fall that year — but this is only one step towards the Cancer Council’s goal, which is to include all people aged 50 and over.
The first full-year assessment of the bowel program, separately released on Thursday at the Australian Gastroenterology Week conference in Perth, show almost 156,000 Australian 55 and 65-year-olds have participated in the program in its first 12 months, and nearly 11,000 returned positive results requiring further investigation.
About 5 per cent of these patients who initially tested positive were found to have a suspected cancer — a similar rate to the national breast cancer screening program.
Announcing the first year figures, professor Finlay Macrae — one of the key figures who advocated for the program to be launched — said the foecal blood test had ‘‘ been shown unequivocally to reduce the