Study finds public left in the dark about bowel cancer screening

There are many things people can look out for when it comes to detecting bowel cancer. Source: Pixabay

Do you know what’s typically involved when it comes to bowel cancer and bowel cancer screening? A new report published in Public Health Research and Practice says many adults are unaware of bowel cancer risk factors and the screening recommendations for people of their age group.

The alarming report found 47 per cent of people over the age of 50 weren’t actually aware of the recommended bowel cancer screening test that is available. According to foundation Bowel Cancer Australia, a Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) is one of the easiest and most effective ways of detecting the disease, even when symptoms aren’t necessarily noticeable.

It involves providing a sample of your toilet water or a stool on a special card. The card is then mailed to a pathology lab, assessed, with results being returned to a patient and their GP. People who return negative results on their test only need to complete another test every one or two years, while people who return a positive result may require further testing and action.

The report found that just four in 10 people understood how often the tests need to be completed, while only 24 per cent of respondents in the study were able to correctly identify risk factors associated with bowel cancer. 

At present, bowel cancer is one of the biggest cancer killers in Australia, ranking at number two behind lung cancer, with predictions that 33,000 people will die of the disease by 2025. An incredible 15,253 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year, a blow given that millions of Aussies have access to the taxpayer-funded National Bowel Cancer Screening Program.

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Colorectal cancer surgeon Graham Newstead said bowel cancer is particularly harmful as it can develop without warning signs. “That’s why Australians need to know the risk factors, make necessary lifestyle modifications, participate in screening appropriate to their level of risk, and be on the lookout for symptoms suggestive of bowel cancer,” he said.

Bowel Cancer Australia Chief Executive Julien Wiggins described knowledge of bowel cancer risk factors as “dangerously low” and said factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption and increased weight are things people could easily change about their lifestyle. He added that age, genetics and family health history could also impact a bowel cancer diagnosis, but that regular screenings could slash the risks of bowel cancer becoming deadly.

“Studies show participating in screening can reduce your risk of dying from bowel cancer by 16 per cent,” he said. “From age 50, Australians can take advantage of the taxpayer-funded National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP), however, people are encouraged to speak to their GP about individual circumstances and participate in screening appropriate to their personal level of risk.”

There is a vast array of factors that people should be aware of that are typically associated with bowel cancer. These can include, but aren’t limited to, a change in bowel habits, poo becoming looser and more diarrhoea-like, noticing blood in the toilet, changes in the appearance of stools, swelling of the abdomen and even unexplained tiredness. The report suggests that people should seek medical advice if symptoms are lasting for longer than two weeks.

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Bowel Cancer Australia launched the ‘Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late’ campaign yesterday, a month-long initiative to raise awareness around the cancer and encouraging people to test for it.

Do you think there is enough information surrounding the cancer? Do you regularly get tested?


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