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Monday, 22 June 2009
Page: 3955

Senator ADAMS (10:06 PM) —This evening I rise to speak about the Cancer Council’s awareness campaign Get Behind Bowel Screening. Bowel cancer kills 80 people per week. It is very easy to talk about treatment, statistics and policy in relation to bowel cancer screening; it is much harder to talk about the fact that 80 Australians every week are dying from bowel cancer. This could be your husband, your wife, your mother, your father, your brother or your sister. It can affect anyone at any time. We often hear about those who have survived. We get to hear their stories. But let us think about those who have not survived. Let us think about the people who possibly did not have the opportunity to be screened for bowel cancer and therefore did not have the chance to be diagnosed early.

The problem is that bowel cancer is not discussed as openly as breast cancer, prostate cancer or skin cancer are. Most of us can relate to a mother, a sister or a friend being diagnosed with breast cancer, or to celebrities such as Kylie Minogue, Belinda Emmett or, more recently, Jane McGrath, who are the public faces of breast cancer. At a dinner party you can talk about a friend of a friend who was diagnosed with breast cancer. People can open a magazine and read a story about breast cancer. We buy water bottles with pink lids. We see the Australian cricket team and the Western Force rugby team wearing pink to support fundraising. I must compliment the Breast Cancer Network Australia, with their pink ladies, and the National Breast Cancer Foundation, with their pink ribbons.

All this is terrific for raising awareness, and I think it is time that we promoted bowel cancer and prostate cancer. Unfortunately, the average person cannot talk about bowel cancer or anything related to the bowel. It is almost a taboo subject and, because of that, it is killing 80 Australians per week. Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer related deaths in Australia. The Cancer Council has stated that bowel cancer screening is the most effective policy measure to immediately reduce cancer death and morbidity in Australia. The National Health and Medical Research Council advise that bowel screening is most beneficial if offered every two years to everyone aged 50 and over; however, the current National Bowel Cancer Screening Program provides only a one-off screening to Australians turning 50, 55 and 65 between 1 January 2008 and 31 December 2010. Is it any wonder that so many people are dying from this disease when the Australian government is ignoring suggestions from the research council to test every Australian aged over 50 every two years and is instead testing only those Australians aged 50, 55 and 65 and testing them only once? There are constant advertisements urging Australian women aged 50 to 69 to have a screening mammogram every two years. Why is it that the only testing currently available for bowel cancer, if you are over 65, is once? Or, if you have turned 50, you might receive three tests in your lifetime.

In Western Australia, new research from BioGrid Australia has shown how effective a national screening program could be, yet the program is only available, as I have said, to 50-year-olds, 60-year-olds and 65-year-olds. Half a million Western Australians are missing out on a test that could help save their lives. There has been no announcement from the Rudd government that it will extend the program after 31 December 2010, other than an indication that it will eventually fully implement the program. During Senate estimates I asked about the evaluation of the program, which was to take place in 2010-11. It is fine to have an evaluation but what worries me is what happens during the time the evaluation is being carried out. I do hope that the government will do it rapidly and not leave other Australians waiting for the program to continue. If this program can be reimplemented after 2010 it may save the 4,160 Australians who die from bowel cancer every year.

A fully implemented bowel cancer screening program can save 80 lives per week. Every month that the extension of the program is delayed, lives are unnecessarily lost to bowel cancer. Not only does bowel cancer screening saves lives; it also allows for enormous savings in hospital costs. Our hospitals are currently struggling, with waiting lists for elective surgery getting longer and waiting times increasing. Treatment at a public hospital for cancer that develops from polyps can cost more than $23,000 per case. Removing a precancerous polyp detected through bowel cancer screening costs approximately $1,250—for a colonoscopy followed by the removal of the polyp. The difference in cost between removing a polyp and treating a cancer patient represents a saving of $21,000. With the current economic crisis, what government would not want to find ways in which to decrease the current costs for public hospitals?

The screening for bowel cancer is relatively simple. It involves taking a tiny sample from two separate bowel motions using a faecal occult blood test, FOBT. The FOBT is mailed to a laboratory, where samples are analysed for traces of blood. If blood is found, the participant is sent a letter encouraging them to speak with their general practitioner. Compare bowel cancer to the silent killer, ovarian cancer. This cancer does not yet have a simple test you can perform at home; instead, by the time people are diagnosed it is usually too late. The risk of bowel cancer can be reduced by a simple test. I ask: why isn’t this available to all Australians over 50?

I feel there is not enough advertising being done to make people aware of bowel cancer, and unfortunately we recently had a recall of faulty test kits. I stress to the people who have been reissued with the test kit to do it again. Please do not sit on that test and think, ‘I’ve done it once; I’m not doing it again.’ It is just so important.

For the Getting Behind Bowel Screening project, on 6 June I took part in a march through the city of Perth. Senator Siewert was there with me. We marched through the centre of Perth, flyers were handed out to the public, and many people came up to talk to staff members of the Cancer Council, therefore highlighting the importance of the screening program. The Cancer Council are a constant voice for the people who cannot tell their stories, who have lost the fight against a cancer that does not have to result in a loss of life. A simple test every two years could save Australian lives and ensure that hospital beds are not used by people with bowel cancer, therefore once again reducing the cost to the health system.

The Get Behind Bowel Screening program is urging Australians to send an email to their local member of parliament to show that they want them to act, as I am doing tonight. This will show the Rudd government that Australians want a commitment to expanding the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program to include two-yearly screening for everyone over 50 by 2012. I implore the government to do something now. As obesity rates increase, the incidence of bowel cancer is also likely to increase. Extend the program to every 50-year-old. Ensure our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and neighbours have a chance of beating the second most common cause of cancer related death in Australia. Let’s stop the 80 deaths a week. Let’s get behind bowel cancer screening.