Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 734


Mrs MOYLAN (10:20 PM) —Over the last year or so, one of the most talked about issues in my electorate, and one that I have the most correspondence about, is the matter of bowel cancer screening. Bowel cancer is Australia’s second most lethal cancer, after lung cancer. It kills 73 Australians every week and it affects men and women, yet nearly all cases can be cured if they are found early. It is 13 years since the government’s own expert medical body recommended that all Australians aged 50 and over be screened for bowel cancer every two years, and it is almost five years since both sides of politics committed to introducing a screening program. So I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on behalf of all of those constituents who have written to me and contacted me about the continuation of the bowel cancer screening program. The program remains available as a one-off test only, and it is restricted to individuals turning 50, 55 and 65. That means that more than five million at-risk Australians are currently missing out on this life-saving program.

There are many forms of cancer which impact on Australians from all walks of life, and I doubt that there would be anyone in this place or, indeed, in Australia, who has not been impacted by cancer—whether it is a friend, a family member or themselves who have had to face what is a challenging and frightening ordeal.

Bowel cancer is preventable, and if it is detected early the survival rate is excellent. The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program is the most effective measure available through the Australian government for immediately reducing cancer death in Australia. It has the potential to save more than 30 lives per week. Screening helps to find bowel cancer early, when treatment has the very best chance of success. If you are 50 or over, the Cancer Council recommends doing a simple screening test every two years. Regular screening is important, because you can have bowel cancer without any noticeable symptoms.

Since the launch of the Cancer Council’s campaign, more than 20,000 emails have been sent by constituents to federal members of parliament asking them to put bowel cancer screening on the health agenda. The fact so many supporters of this cause have taken the time to email me and my colleagues clearly demonstrates how important this issue is to Australians. That is why this government must expand the program to include two-yearly screenings for all Australians aged 50 and over.

Estimates for the annual cost of a fully implemented National Bowel Cancer Screening Program have ranged from $39 million to $140 million. Even at the higher end, the program is by international benchmarks a strong public health investment. Multiple studies, both in Australia and internationally, have demonstrated the cost effectiveness of bowel cancer screening.

A study published in the Medical Journal of Australia in October 2009 reported:

… even in its current nascent form, the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program was highly effective in identifying early-stage tumours that are easier and far less expensive to treat.

Under the World Health Organisation’s principles of screening, the program is not valid until it moves from one-off faecal occult blood testing to continual or biennial screening for the indicated age group. A plan for full implementation is therefore urgently required to uphold the program.

In planning its health budget, I urge the government to strongly consider funding a biennial screening program. If fully implemented, this program can potentially achieve a major breakthrough in bowel cancer treatment. As I said earlier, everyone has been touched by cancer in some way. When thinking of one’s own experience, I am sure nearly everyone would find it difficult to deny the merit of supporting this initiative. We all know, and the government has often stated, the importance of preventative health. I think this is one of those preventative health programs that has great merit, can save lives and can certainly save money in the long run. According to Terry Slevin, education and research director for the Cancer Council Western Australia, if you had a choice, you would want to go through bowel cancer screening in order to save your life. Once again, I urge the government to make sure that there is a robust screening program and that it continues.