Don’t waste the simple test that might save your life, researchers urge

New research reveals many Australians aged 50 and over are putting their lives at risk by not taking part in a simple, painless bowel cancer screening test that is provided free - and taken in the privacy of their own homes.

Professor Mark Jenkins, from the University of Melbourne’s new Centre for Cancer Research, said too few Australians are taking the simple test that could save their life.

“Bowel cancer is Australia’s second-most commonly diagnosed cancer in males and females, with almost 17,000 new cases diagnosed in 2017,” Professor Jenkins said.

“Each year over one million Australians are doing this test which can detect bowel cancer at an early treatable stage, and can even prevent bowel cancer. Yet only 40 per cent of Australians who receive these kits, delivered by mail, complete the test.”

Professor Jenkins, who is also the director of the Centre for Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Melbourne University’s School of Population and Global Health, said test kits are sent to people aged between 50 and 74 every two years. This free screening test is quick, clean and easy – and you do it at home. It involves taking a tiny sample of your faeces with a special collection stick, putting it in a sterile container and sending it back in the post for testing.

This initiative, “The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program”, is funded for all Australians aged 50 to 74 and is designed to identify people who show early signs of the cancer while it the disease is still treatable.

“We’d like to get the message across that this test is highly effective, clean, safe and non-invasive that is carried out in the privacy of your own bathroom.

“The test can detect tiny invisible amounts of blood which is a sign that there may be early signs of cancer.  If blood is found in your samples, your doctor may recommend a further test to look for polyps or cancer before it spreads” he said.

“Our research shows that carrying out this painless test can reduce risk of dying from bowel cancer by 74 per cent.”

Professor Mark Jenkins and his team have recently received substantial funding from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) to renew the Colon Cancer Family Registry Cohort (CCFRC) for another five years.

The CCFRC is the world’s largest resource for colorectal cancer study, investigating genetics and familial risk and with this funding boost will be run from Melbourne for another five years.

Dr Aung Ko Win, a genetic epidemiologist who is part of Professor Jenkins’ research team at the Centre for Cancer Research, is analysing the data from this cohort to develop new ways to identify which Australians are at highest risk of bowel cancer.

“By asking people about their family history of cancer, what they eat, how much they weigh, if they smoke, if they take regular aspirin as well as looking at their genetic data we hope to provide an individual risk of bowel cancer which will help target screening to those most at risk.”

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Ebru Yaman