New investment to prevent bowel cancer incidence and death

A new $5 million research project aims to prevent 25,000 bowel cancer deaths by increasing at-home screening participation rates.

Bowel cancer can be successfully treated in 99 per cent of cases if it is caught early. And while the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program – informally known as the at-home poo-test kit – is world-class, approximately 60 per cent of eligible Australian’s do not participate every two years as recommended.

The project has received a $5 million NHMRC Synergy Grant to tackle the issue of non-participation, using co-design to address current barriers, such as bowel cancer risk awareness, procrastination, and language barriers.

It will trial new methods to determine which work best and for specific segments of the population. Based on this research, the investigators envisage a future screening program that delivers the home-test-kit in the best way to maximise participation based on age, gender and where the person lives.

The collaborative public health project will be led by Professor Mark Jenkins of the University of Melbourne Centre for Cancer Research and Melbourne School of Population and Global Health Centre for Epidemiology and Biostatistics, with multi-disciplinary experts in public health, general practice, multicultural health literacy, behavioural science and digital technologies from Cancer Council Queensland, Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health, La Trobe University, Melbourne Health, RMIT, the University of Sydney and University of NSW.

Professor Jenkins said that much greater participation in the screening program is achievable.

“By increasing bowel cancer screening participation by just 20 per cent, we can prevent an additional 37,000 bowel cancers and 25,000 bowel cancer deaths over the next 25 years.”

“The current one-size-fits-all approach to bowel cancer screening is not working for all Australians, particularly for cultural minorities, younger and first-time participants, and lower socioeconomic groups.”

“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 Mark Jenkins, CIA on the grant, is the group lead of the Precision Prevention and Early Detection of Colorectal Cancer group with the University of Melbourne Centre for Cancer Research, and director of the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health Centre for Epidemiology and Biostatistics.

Professor Jon Emery, CIC on the grant, is the Herman Professor of Primary Care Cancer Research, group lead of Cancer in Primary Care with the University of Melbourne Centre for Cancer Research and Department of General Health, and director of PC4 – the Primary Care Collaborative Cancer Clinical Trials Group.

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