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Bowel Cancer Awareness Month

June is Bowel Cancer Awareness month and a reminder that while some people may find it embarrassing, bowel cancer is a topic that should be discussed with your doctor, especially when you are over 50 years of age.

If found early, 90% of bowel cancers can be successfully treated. Yet, bowel cancer screening rates remain low when compared to other cancers, despite the introduction of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) which offers a free ‘at home’ screening kit to eligible Australians aged 50 - 74 years old.

Bowel Cancer is Australia's second deadliest cancer, claiming the lives of over 80 Australians every week. In our region, bowel cancer screening rates remain lower than the state average, at 36.6% compared to the NSW average of 37.8%

Through our Cancer Screening Clinical Audit & Quality Improvement in General Practice Program, we have been working closely with 18 practices to help improve patient bowel screening rates, with some promising results. We have supported these practices by helping them set up systems and processes to better identify patients needing screening, and by encouraging GPs and patients to have open conversations about the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer, which can be embarrassing to talk about.

In the last 15 months, patient screening rates from the practices working with us have improved across both the never-screened and the under-screened patient groups. The average screening improvement rate for eligible men improved by 7.8%, while eligible women improved by 8.2%. To continue this positive momentum, all practices have been invited to continue with the Program for a further 12 months, with the hope of continuing to see a further improvement on these results.

Statistics show that cancer screening rates for men in our region remain lower than woman. As a result between April and June, we commissioned Men's Health Services to run a number of free consumer “Get in Early” men’s health education sessions in the Hawkesbury and Penrith areas, focusing on bowel cancer screening. We also commissioned a Cancer Screening and Men's Health GP workshop in the Blue Mountains in May, which provided some practical approaches to engaging men more actively in maintaining their own health and wellbeing. In addition, we have been working with Western Sydney University on a research and engagement project aimed at better understanding the needs and barriers to cancer screening among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse men living the region.

Regular cancer screening saves lives and improving our region's cancer screening rates remains a key priority for us, as we know that early detection makes a huge difference to patient survival rates.

More Information about Bowel Cancer Screening:

Eligible Australians should receive their first free bowel screening Test Kit in the mail around their 50th Birthday. The Test Kits are easy to use and come with detailed instructions. To request a Test Kit to be mailed to you, call the NBCSP Information Line on 1800 118 868 or go to www.cancerscreening.gov.au/bowel

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Lizz Reay's avatar
Lizz Reay is the CEO of Wentworth Healthcare, provider of the Nepean Blue Mountains Primary Health Network. Previously Deputy CEO of Nepean Blue Mountains Medicare Local & Nepean Division of General Practice, she has an extensive background in public health.
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