June is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month: a month devoted to raising awareness of Australia’s second deadliest cancer. 

Each week, around 300 people are diagnosed with the disease and 100 will lose their lives. Around one in 13 Australians will develop bowel cancer in their lifetime, and the disease often starts without any symptoms.

The good news is that over 90% of bowel cancers can be successfully treated when detected early.

Awareness of regular screening and early detection is a crucial factor that will help to reduce deaths. If current participation in the bowel screening program were to increase from 40% to 60%, research shows that over 84,000 deaths could be prevented by 2040

The month marks an opportunity to promote greater understanding of bowel cancer across the community by encouraging events and campaigns to inform Australians about the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer, and the importance of screening for early detection and prevention.

On 21 June, Telstra Health employees were fortunate to attend an informative lecture delivered by Dr Hooi Ee – specialist gastroenterologist, Head of Gastroenterology at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth, and member of the National Cancer Screening Register (NCSR) Quality Committee.

Dr Ee provided an overview of bowel cancer, its prevalence in Australia as a public health issue, signs and symptoms to be aware of and the role of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) and the NCSR in supporting age-eligible people to screen regularly between the ages of 50 and 74.

Western countries have the highest global incidence of bowel cancer, with Australia and New Zealand at the top of the list. The lifetime risk of contracting the disease is roughly 1 in 17 for men, and 1 in 20 for women.

While bowel cancer can occur at any age, it tends to occur more commonly and increase in incidence after the age of 50.

Some of the major risk factors for contracting bowel cancer are ‘non-modifiable’, or aspects you can’t control, such as your age, family history of the disease, and genetic susceptibility. There are also a range of modifiable aspects, or life-style contributors, such as inadequate dietary fibre, excessive red meat and processed meat consumption, obesity and physical inactivity, high alcohol intake and smoking.

In positive news, Dr Ee noted that 70% of factors that can lead to bowel cancer are life-style contributors – which people have a greater ability to control in the lives.

Furthermore, bowel cancer rates in Australia are declining and survival rates are increasing. This is attributed to numerous factors including access to colonoscopy and endoscopy for earlier diagnosis and treatment options, as well as the impact of population screening strategies through the NBCSP and greater public awareness of life-style contributors and the importance of screening regularly.

Cancer Council Australia’s ‘Get2it’ Campaign

Telstra Health is proudly supporting Cancer Council Australia’s ‘Get2it’ campaign – a Department of Health-funded public awareness initiative, designed to encourage age-eligible individuals to take the time to complete the test – especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and people from a culturally and linguistically diverse background, who are more likely to never screen or not screen regularly.

The campaign provides information about the importance of regular screening, home tests kits and how to use them, and a range of resources - including a link to the NCSR website where eligible people can order a bowel program home test kit to their home.

The NCSR is developed and operated by Telstra Health, on behalf of the Commonwealth Department of Health, to support the Australian government’s National Bowel Cancer Screening Program and the National Cervical Screening Program.

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Telstra Health acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and recognises their continuing connection to land, waters and culture. We pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.