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Expanded bowel screens could save hundreds

Extra spending would allow for hundreds of additional lives to be saved, a new study finds.

As health experts await a decision on whether bowel cancer screening will continue to exist in Australia, a study has shown how an expanded program could save up to 500 lives a year.
The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program – free tests for Australians as they turn 50, 55 and 65 years – has stopped issuing tests for recent birthdays, although it is still clearing a backlog.
Despite no funding for this program beyond mid-year, a study has shown huge benefits if it was expanded to allow biennial bowel cancer screening for all Australians aged 50 to 74.

This would prevent between 300 and 500 deaths every year from bowel cancer, said Professor Michael Pignone from the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Centre at the University of North Carolina.

It would be a major improvement on the “limited” program now in place because of budget constraints, Pigone said.

“Based on savings from reduced treatment costs, we estimate that implementation of a full program could be achieved with a modest additional investment that would bring spending in the program up to a level similar to that for other cancer screening programs,” Pignone said.

“The actual additional expenditure required is likely to be less than $50 million per annum.”
Pignone said the extra spending would allow for hundreds of additional lives to be saved as their cancers would be detected at more favourable stages, when they were also less expensive to treat.
“It was estimated that 14,700 Australians would be diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2010 and about 3700 would die from it,” Pignone said.

The research, funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing and the US National Cancer Institute, is published in the latest edition of the Medical Journal of Australia.
Cancer Council Australia chief executive Ian Olver said an expanded bowel screen program would cost about $150 million, which was comparable to existing breast and cervical screening programs, both of which he supported.

“Yet bowel cancer is killing 1200 more Australians each year than breast and cervical cancers combined – why should people with bowel cancer miss out on a life-saving test?” Olver said.
“We will know on budget night whether the government is prepared to make the investment this year – or whether more lives will be lost while program expansion is delayed.” AAP

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