Next govt 'could' prevent 35,000 bowel cancer deaths: CCA

14 August, 2013

The next Australian government will save 35,000 Australian lives over four decades* if it adopts a five-year plan to complete the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program by 2020, according to new analysis released recently by Cancer Council Australia.

Professor Ian Olver, Cancer Council Australia CEO, said whoever forms government after 7 September has the opportunity to close the biggest hole in Australia's response to its growing cancer burden by completing the program.

"There are thousands of Australians in apparently good health who have an early-stage bowel cancer or precancerous polyp growing inside them," Professor Olver said.

"The best way to arrest this silent killer is to screen everyone aged 50 to 74, every two years.

"Phasing in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program was a coalition and a Labor election commitment way back in 2004. Three elections later, the program is still restricted to a one-off test for just four age groups."

Professor Olver said a five-year implementation plan would prevent on average 875 bowel cancer deaths each year in addition to those being picked up by the current program — a total of 35,000 lives saved over the next 40 years.

"It is the best investment the next government can make in reducing our cancer death toll," he said.

"We know both sides of politics support evidence-based cancer control policy, so the slow progress in implementing the program remains an anomaly — and a tragedy, for the thousands of Australians who are dying unnecessarily while we wait.

"It only took five years to get a breast cancer screening program in place — 20 years ago.

"We urge all Australians to call on their federal candidates to end the delays and commit to a five-year bowel cancer screening plan in the next term of office."

Bowel cancer screening is the top line priority in a suite of independent recommendations that also focuses on research, workforce planning, asbestos control and other priorities.

* Based on the application of MISCAN-colon modelling to Australian demographics.