Elec­tion call for more can­cer pre­ven­tion

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Health - Adam Cress­well Health ed­i­tor

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

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