For the first time, a new Victoria-wide bowel screening campaign could see more than 20000 additional Victorians screened for bowel cancer.
Screening can detect the disease at an early stage, even when there are no symptoms and avoid the need for extended chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
The campaign — the biggest bowel cancer public education campaign Cancer Council has ever rolled out in Victoria — launches as new data shows the importance of early detection on survival rates.
Cancer Council Victoria chief executive officer Todd Harper said bowel cancer was our second biggest cancer killer, claiming the lives of more than 1300 Victorians each year.
‘‘To understand the enormous impact of bowel cancer on the Victorian community, consider this — bowel cancer kills four times more Victorians than road accidents,’’ Mr Harper said.
‘‘This is a real tragedy because many of these cancer deaths are preventable.
‘‘In fact, if you detect bowel cancer at stage one or two, you have a 98 per cent to 90 per cent chance of survival respectively, but too many people are ignoring the free and simple test mailed to our homes.
‘‘I’ve done it myself. Compared to the impact of a diagnosis on our immediate families and the long-term mental and physical toll of advanced cancer treatment, doing the test is easy.’’
But currently only 40 per cent of eligible Victorians aged between 50 and 74 complete the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program home test.
Local screening rates range between 51.2 per cent and 32.5 per cent across Victoria’s geographical regions.
The lowest screening areas are Casey-South with 32.5 per cent participation, Tullamarine-Broadmeadows with 32.8 per cent and Wyndham with 34.7 percent.
This compares with Gippsland East with 51.2 per cent participation, Surf Coast-Bellarine Peninsula with 47.4 per cent and Wangaratta-Benalla with 46.5 per cent.
Moira Shire participation rate for the program is 40.8 per cent, compared with a state average of 39.9 per cent.
Cancer Council hopes this campaign will help to increase participation to 50 per cent and lead to an additional 20000 Victorians taking the test this year.
‘‘If screening continues to rise, within the next 10 to 15 years more than one million extra Victorians could be screening for bowel cancer, potentially saving tens of thousands of Victorians from aggressive bowel cancer, treatment or death,’’ Mr Harper said.
‘‘One of the major reasons people don’t do the test is that they simply don’t realise that bowel cancer is a widespread, deadly disease and that they could be at risk.
‘‘This campaign aims to shine a spotlight on this cancer and motivate Victorians to save themselves or their loved ones.
‘‘It is clear that the screening program helps to find bowel cancer early, when 90 per cent can be successfully treated.
‘‘If you wait until you have symptoms, you may be at stage three or four where your chances of survival decrease to 71 per cent and 15 per cent respectively.
‘‘Our message is simple — if you’re aged over 50 and receive the free bowel cancer screening test in the mail, do it.
‘‘It could save your life.’’