According to the latest research from the Cancer Council, the incidence of bowel cancer in Australia is set to rise to 21,000 cases a year in the next decade. The report shows that one in five cases are diagnosed at an advanced stage, due to a lack of screening. This research is being used to renew the Federal Government’s full funding and implementation of the national bowel cancer screening program. Funding for the program is due to expire at the end of June.
According to Cancer council chief executive, Professor Ian Olver the program needs to be expanded. “The new data shows that we expect a 50 per cent increase in the incidence of bowel cancer over the next ten years…But we can actually do something about that if we reinvigorate the national bowel screening program and complete it.” At present the national screening program targets people turning 50, 55 and 65, despite expert recommendations that everyone over 50 should be screened. “The figures about saving 20 to 30 lives per week in Australia, depend not on one-off testing, but testing everyone 50 and above every 2 years,” he said.
Professor Olver added that lifestyle as well as population trends would drive the increase, and it underscored the need for an effective means to combat the disease. “The ageing of the population is one issue, because bowel cancer does increase with increasing age…Obesity is also a risk factor for bowel cancer, so those two are major problems that will impact on the incidence over the next decade,” he explained.
“The thing about bowel cancer screening is, because a polyp precedes cancer, you can pick up a polyp before it becomes cancerous and deal with it so a person never gets cancer…We calculate that with a fully implemented bowel screening program, you're saving between 20 and 30 lives per week…It is also cost effective ... by not having to treat as much metastatic disease, which is expensive to treat, and by reducing the number of colonoscopies that are being used as a primary screen,” he explained about the screening program. Prof Olver said the expanded program could cost about $150 million a year, but taking healthcare savings into account would cut this figure by about two thirds.