Improve early detection and diagnosis of bowel cancer
Bowel cancer is the second highest cause of cancer death in NSW and is responsible for around 35 deaths every week. Our research predicts that, unless there is a major shift towards more cases detected at an early stage, almost 150,000 Australians will die of bowel cancer over the next 25 years – a third will be from NSW.
Early detection and diagnosis is key to surviving a bowel cancer diagnosis. Thousands of lives can be saved over the next twenty years by encouraging more people in NSW to participate in the bowel cancer screening program. Cancer Council NSW calls on the next NSW Government to do more to increase awareness and participation in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) and cut wait times for colonoscopy to the recommended 30 days. This will ensure people with bowel cancer are diagnosed as early as possible and have the best chance of survival.
Cancer Council NSW recommendations
Invest $8 million each year to deliver a sustained bowel cancer screening mass media campaign and communications strategy, with an additional $2 million each year for tailored communication for under screened populations including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Set a NSW target to reach and sustain 60% participation in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program by 2025.
Increase funding to expand colonoscopy services to cut wait times for colonoscopy from referral following a positive bowel screening test to 30 days.
Publish wait times for colonoscopy in public hospitals to improve transparency.
Increase funding to implement direct access colonoscopy pathways to ensure that everyone who returns a positive bowel screening test can direct access colonoscopy where appropriate.
Why are we asking the Government to make this change?
Unfortunately, bowel cancer screening participation rates in NSW remain one of the lowest in the country with participation stalled at 39.3% compared to 44.6% in Victoria. Every year in NSW, fewer than 1 in 2 people sent a bowel screening test kit will do the test. We know that survival for bowel cancer depends on the stage of cancer at diagnosis. Participation in bowel cancer screening is essential for early diagnosis, where bowel cancer can be successfully treated.
NSW has some of the longest waiting times in Australia for follow-up colonoscopy. Only 12% of people receive a colonoscopy following a positive bowel cancer screening test within the recommended 30 days.
We know that campaigns encouraging participation in bowel cancer screening work. The National Bowel Cancer Screening Campaign delivered by Cancer Council Australia in 2019 was directly responsible for an additional 93,000 test kit returns. On top of this, it will also save $46 million in direct healthcare costs from 2019 to 2070, delivering a huge return on investment. This means more money can be spent on preventative health measures.
What can be achieved if the Government makes this change?
Sustained 60% participation in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program could save up to 28,000 lives in NSW over the next 25 or so years.
Bowel cancer is the most expensive cancer to treat in Australia with the majority of expenditure for hospital treatment. Research by The Daffodil Centre shows the average health costs for a bowel (colorectal) cancer case in the first year of treatment are over $50,000. Our research shows that bowel cancer screening is a cost-effective intervention. Increasing participation in the NBCSP and treating bowel cancers earlier will save lives and reduce the demands on our hospitals.