The Federal Government committed to a $95.9 million, four-year plan in May to finalise Australia’s National Bowel Cancer Screening Program in the 2014-15 budget, preventing at least 35,000 Australian bowel cancer deaths.
Cancer Council Australia CEO, Professor Ian Olver, applauded the Minister for Health, Peter Dutton, for committing to the completion of the program, which was introduced 10 federal budgets ago.
“Bowel cancer is the second-largest cause of cancer death in Australia, yet most cases can be cured if detected early,” Professor Olver said.
“Our research shows the Government’s commitment to bring the program’s full implementation date forward by 14 years will prevent at least 35,000 bowel cancer deaths over the next 40 years.
“By filling in additional gaps in the bowel cancer screening program from July next year, the benefit in lives saved will be maximised while full rollout occurs.”
Cancer Council called on GPs in June to encourage patients aged 50 and over to screen for bowel cancer with a faecal occult blood test, as part of a campaign to promote the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program.
Developed by Cancer Council with funding from the Australian Government, the campaign followed a federal budget announcement that the free screening program would be fully implemented by July 2020 and offered to everyone aged 50 and over, every two years.
Professor Olver said GP support was critical to boosting participation in the program and to getting people not yet eligible for the program to screen.
“Screening for bowel cancer with FOBT is one of the most clinically and economically effective public health measures available to Australians,” Professor Olver said. “Support from GPs has great potential to increase the number of Australians taking the test, particularly when the campaign is running.
“While the screening program is based on participants taking their FOBT at home, GPs nonetheless have a critical role – in referring patients who test positive, in assisting with follow-up and in encouraging patients to take the test in the first place.”
Cancer Council spoke out in against the tobacco industry’s efforts to undermine the effectiveness of plain packaging through ongoing misinformation about tobacco sales in Australia.
Professor Olver said independent tobacco sales figures published by the Department of Health showed tobacco consumption in Australia in the March quarter of 2014 was at an all-time low.
New Treasury figures were further indication of a decline in smoking, with tobacco clearances (including excise and customs duty) falling by 3.4% in 2013 relative to 2012 when tobacco plain packaging was introduced.
“The so-called data being spun by the tobacco industry to claim that plain packaging has not worked is plain wrong,” Professor Olver said.
“If we used tobacco industry claims to guide health policy, life expectancy in Australia would be much lower than it is today.”
Cancer Council has urged eligible Australians to participate in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, following the release of data in June that showed around 643,000 Australians threw away a free kit in 2012-13 that could have saved their lives.
The National Bowel Cancer Screening Monitoring Report 2012-13 shows that participation in the program fell to 33.5% of the 964,000 Australians invited to screen for the disease over the period.
Cancer Council Australia’s Advocacy Director, Paul Grogan, said the low screening rate reflected a lack of awareness of bowel cancer. “People don’t talk about bowel cancer, they do not realise it is the nation’s second biggest cancer killer and they do not appreciate that a simple test for the disease can mean the difference between life and death,” Mr Grogan said.
“On average, every 2½ hours another Australian dies of bowel cancer. Yet around 90% of cases can be cured if detected early.”
Mr Grogan said that while participation was low, the good news was that the program was still saving lives and reducing unnecessary treatment costs.
“Thanks to the program, 400 Australians were diagnosed with a confirmed or suspected cancer that was twice as likely to be cured than someone who presents with symptoms and another 730 Australians had advanced adenomas removed that were at high risk of developing into bowel cancers,” he said. “By increasing participation, we can build on these successes.”
Cancer Council has congratulated Australia’s food policy ministers in June for reiterating their support for the Health Star Rating system on front-of-pack food labels and called on the food industry to embrace the voluntary scheme.
Cancer Council spokesperson, Clare Hughes, congratulated the intergovernmental Legislative and Governance Forum on Food Regulation for announcing their renewed support for the Health Star Rating system, which will help Australians who want to improve their diets to make more informed choices about the packaged foods they purchase.
“We are facing a significant increase in cancers associated with poor nutrition and obesity, unless Australians make much healthier choices about the foods they purchase and consume,” Ms Hughes said.
“Individual choices are only as good as the information on which they’re based. The Health Star Rating system helps consumers identify healthier packaged foods at a glance. Healthier food choices translate to improved cancer outcomes across the population.”
Ms Hughes said the level of take-up for the scheme would be reviewed in two years and, if it was not voluntarily adopted by the industry, a mandatory code would be introduced in five years.
Cancer Council says that new data released in July showing a record fall in smoking rates, confirms that Australia is on track to achieve major reductions in smoking-related diseases.
Chair of the joint Cancer Council/Heart Foundation Tobacco Issues Committee, Kylie Lindorff, said the new data, published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, showed that only 12.8% of Australians aged 14 and over smoked daily in 2013.
The new data says that the proportion of Australians who smoke has dropped by 15% since 2010.
“These figures are a triumph of evidence-based public health policy, especially when you compare them with data from previous generations,” Ms Lindorff said. “In the 1960s, more than half of all Australian men were smokers and nearly a third of women. Even in the mid-1990s, smoking rates were around double what they are now.
“This result is a tribute to successive Australian governments and to non-government health organisations that we have been able to reduce the proportion of smokers so dramatically with effective policies.”
Ms Lindorff said that although the figures were welcome news, more than 2.4 million Australians continued to smoke daily, increasing their risk of developing 15 cancer types caused by smoking, cardiovascular disease and other potentially fatal conditions.
“We still have a lot to do before smoking is no longer the main preventable cause of cancer death in Australia, but these figures confirm we are continuing to head in the right direction.”
A new report in July showing that cancer was one of the leading causes of alcohol-related deaths in Australia, should help raise public awareness of alcohol as a significant cancer risk factor according to Cancer Council.
Professor Olver said the new report, Alcohol’s burden of disease in Australia, published by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education and VicHealth, added to the growing evidence base that showed alcohol consumption was one of the most preventable causes of cancer.
“We have long known that alcohol causes as many cancer deaths in Australia as melanoma, yet the level of public awareness is low,” Professor Olver said. “Australians who choose to drink should try to stay within the National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines and have no more than two standard drinks a day.
“There are plenty of good reasons to moderate consumption – and preventing cancer is one of the most significant of them.
“This report adds a new and alarming perspective by calculating that cancer is the cause 25% of all alcohol-related deaths in Australian men and 31% of alcohol-related deaths in Australian women – making cancer one of the leading causes of all alcohol-related deaths.”