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Bowel cancer incidence to rise

New research from the Cancer Council shows one in five cases of bowel cancer are diagnosed at an advanced stage, due to a lack of screening.

Australia's incidence of bowel cancer is predicted to surge by 50 per cent over the next decade.
The number of mostly older Australians who develop the often deadly cancer is expected to rise from about 14,000 to 21,000 a year.

Cancer Council Australia chief executive Professor Ian Olver said 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," Olver said.

"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."

This forecast comes as a cloud hangs over Australia's National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, as its funding expired at the end of last year without an indication from government as to its future.
Test kits are still being sent, but only to clear a back-log created when a batch of faulty tests were recalled.

Those Australians who have turned the target age of 50, 55 or 65 so far this year will miss out on a test, and this will continue if more money is not set aside in May's federal budget.

Olver has joined with other health experts in a call for the program to be re-funded and also broadened, to send the tests to Australians aged over 50 every two years.

This would save lives and taxpayer dollars, Olver said, as bowel cancer was easily prevented if caught early but was expensive to treat and incurable if allowed to progress.

"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," Olver said.
"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."
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.

Bowel cancer was also unique, he said, along with breast and cervix cancer in that "there is a test suitable for population screening".

"It's the first one, incidentally, to include men and we do need to take that opportunity because it will reduce the amount of bowel cancer," Olver said.


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