Despite evidence that early bowel cancer detection gives people a 98 per cent chance of survival, just 42.3 per cent of local residents are completing the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program home test.
This figure is slightly above the state average of 40 per cent.
Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer, claiming the lives of more than 1300 Victorians each year.
Cancer Council Victoria chief executive Todd Harper said early detection was vital to survival rates from the disease.
‘‘To understand the enormous impact of bowel cancer on the Victorian community, consider this — bowel cancer kills four times more Victorians than road accidents,’’ Mr Harper said.
‘‘This is a real tragedy because many of these cancer deaths are preventable. In fact if you detect bowel cancer at stage 1 or 2, you have a 98 per cent to 90 per cent chance of survival respectively, but too many people are ignoring the free and simple test mailed to our homes.
‘‘I’ve done it myself. Compared to the impact of a diagnosis on our immediate families and the long-term mental and physical toll of advanced cancer treatment, doing the test is easy.’’
Mr Harper said many people waited until they had symptoms of bowel cancer before seeking medical advice, which was often at stage 3 or 4.
The chances of survival decrease to 71 per cent and 15 per cent respectively once the cancer has reached that stage.
The concerning data has prompted a statewide bowel screening campaign, which is hoped to encourage more than 20000 additional screenings for bowel cancer.
The screenings can detect the disease at an early stage, even when there are no symptoms, and avoid the need for extended chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
‘‘If screening continues to rise, within the next 10 to 15 years more than one million extra Victorians could be screening for bowel cancer, potentially saving tens of thousands of Victorians from aggressive bowel cancer, treatment or death,’’ Mr Harper said. ‘‘One of the major reasons people don’t do the test is that they simply don’t realise that bowel cancer is a widespread, deadly disease and that they could be at risk — this campaign aims to shine a spotlight on this cancer and motivate Victorians to save themselves or their loved ones.
‘‘Our message is simple — if you’re aged above 50 and receive the free bowel cancer screening test in the mail, do it. It could save your life.’’
For more information, visit www.cancervic.org.au/bowel