Launch of the Bowel Cancer Screening Alliance

A new Bowel Cancer Screening Alliance (BCSA), based at the University of Melbourne, has been launched by Federal Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care Ged Kearney, and will investigate ways to increase life-saving cancer screening in Australians.

Launched with a $5 million grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the alliance brings together leading experts from 13 institutes Australia-wide to develop and test modifications to the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP).

Experts estimate more than three million eligible Australians are not participating in the free, world-class screening program, and the Alliance will investigate if there are new ways to encourage Australians to take part.

The NBCSP recommends bowel cancer screening for Australians aged 50-74 every two years, and free home test kits are posted to eligible Australians.

Of the 5.8 million people invited to screen in 2019/20, only 43.8 per cent (or 2.5 million) people completed and returned the kits.

Professor Mark Jenkins, BCSA and University of Melbourne Chief Investigator, said bowel cancer causes more deaths than breast cancer and more deaths than prostate cancer, despite being more preventable by screening.

“Bowel cancer can be successfully treated in 99 per cent of cases if it is caught early,” Professor Jenkins said.

“By increasing participation even by 20 percent, we can prevent an additional 37,000 bowel cancers and 25,000 bowel cancer deaths over the next 25 years – which is equivalent to saving 20 lives a week.”

Professor Jenkins said researchers wanted to understand more about barriers to participation in screening,

“Research from Australia and around the world has identified barriers to people’s participation including lack of awareness of bowel cancer incidence, procrastination, fear, disgust, confusion, and cultural and language barriers,” Professor Jenkins said.

“Age, gender and where a person lives also influence participation.”

Researchers are now looking at every aspect of the design, delivery, use and return of the NBCSP home test kit, and trialling new methods to determine which works best for specific segments of the population.

Professor Jenkins said research is already underway to measure the effectiveness of new technologies, GP endorsement and design changes to the kit components and letters.

“Our participation rates are lagging behind comparable screening programs in other countries, where they actually embed research for continual improvement – this is our opportunity to catch up, with huge benefits for Australians and our healthcare system,” Professor Jenkins said.

“I acknowledge and thank the Federal Department of Health and Aged Care with whom we are working closely on this project and this collaboration will be critical to our success.”

Image left to right: Professor Mark Jenkins, The Hon Ged Kearney MP, Professor Nancy Baxter

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