LESS than half of eligible Wimmera people have completed the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, despite the region having some of the highest rates of bowel cancer deaths in Victoria.
Cancer Council Victoria has started a statewide campaign to improve screening rates, which it hopes will encourage an extra 20,000 people take screening tests.
In the Grampians region, 43 per cent of people eligible for screening have taken the test.
The statewide average is 39.9 per cent.
Bowel cancer kills about 1300 people in Victoria each year – almost as many as breast and prostate cancer combined.
Wimmera cancer nurse practitioner Carmel O’Kane said she believed Wimmera people were largely aware of the need to screen for bowel cancer, but often put it off.
“We don't necessarily have more bowel cancer here than other areas, but it is often diagnosed at a later stage, so it is crucial people are screening,” she said.
“Forty-three per cent isn’t high enough.
“Why people don't do it, I'm not sure.
“In some ways I’m surprised the screening rate is that high.
“But it’s not just about the test – there has then got to be access to colonoscopies, scans and other services that come into that.
“In regard to colonoscopies, we do have excellent access here. It is probably easier in the Wimmera than anywhere else in the state to get a colonoscopy.
“We want people to know the services are here and you can access them.”
Bowel cancer screening tests can detect the disease at an early stage – even when there are no symptoms – and avoid the need for people to undergo extended chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
Cancer Council Victoria chief executive Todd Harper said many people did not realise they were at risk of bowel cancer.
“It is clear that the screening program helps to find bowel cancer early, when 90 per cent can be successfully treated,” he said.
“If you wait until you have symptoms, you might 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.”