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Call for bowel cancer screening funding

End of program would result in unnecessary deaths, experts say.

A screening program which has prompted thousands of Australians to get early treatment for their bowel cancer is facing an uncertain future, with its funding due to run out.

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) is scheduled to finish on December 31, and experts say there has been no news of an extension or replacement of the life-saving program.

"Early detection and removal of precancerous abnormalities have saved more than 11,000 lives since bowel cancer screening was introduced in 2006," said Associate Professor Graham Newstead, chairman of the Bowel Cancer Foundation.

"We urgently need a commitment from the federal government for ongoing funding ... and a comprehensive public awareness campaign so people can understand the purpose and relevance of screening.

"Anything less will continue to result in unnecessary deaths, from what is essentially a preventable disease."

When the NBCSP was rolled out it offered a free bowel cancer test to Australians as they turned 55 and 65 years-old, and it was expanded in 2008 to also take in those turning 50.

An evaluation of its results in 2008 showed of almost 18,000 people who returned a positive result during the year, there were 1700 cases of re-cancerous adenomas found as well as 334 suspected cancers and 120 cancers.

"Research has shown that survival rates increase significantly when bowel cancer is detected and treated early," said Julien Wiggins, chief executive officer of Bowel Cancer Australia.

"In the 2008 NBCSP, the majority (58 per cent) of confirmed cancers were in the earliest stage."

The program has not been without controversy. A distribution of faulty test kits last year saw the program suspended for six months.

Wiggins said the government indicated in 2007 the NBCSP was an interim measure before a more comprehensive program, with two-yearly screening for Australians 50 years and over, would be rolled out.

"We need to see a full and effective program implemented, without further delay, as was initially planned," he said.

"We know it can be done when we look at the success of breast cancer screening which was fully implemented within five years."

Bowel cancer is Australia's second biggest cancer killer. It affects men and women equally, of any age and claims 78 lives every week.

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