Bowel cancer patient advocates are calling for the urgent introduction of national bowel cancer screening after new evidence that it would save twice as many lives as breast cancer screening does.
A bowel screening programme would save about 86 lives a year, or 6.8% of the annual bowel cancer toll, according to figures provided to the Listener by Otago University cancer expert associate professor Brian Cox.
Cox has calculated that the breast screening programme saves between 35 and 49 lives a year, or 5.3% and 7.5% of all breast cancer deaths each year.
Rachel Holdaway of Beat Bowel Cancer Aotearoa said the Cox estimates showed there was a strong case for bowel screening.
“His figures just highlight how incredible and outrageous it is that we don’t have a commitment from this government to a national roll-out of a bowel cancer screening programme. We call on the government to commit to this roll-out in the upcoming Budget.”
Bowel cancer is New Zealand’s second deadliest cancer, killing 1200 people a year.
But despite New Zealand having one of the highest death rates in the world for bowel cancer, this country has yet to set up a national screening programme.
Australia, the UK and most European Union countries have screening programmes, in which stool samples for older people are examined for microscopic traces of blood. Bowel cancer screening would cost $60m a year, similar to the cost of breast cancer screening.
Health Minister Tony Ryall said a decision on national screening would be made before the pilot finished. “Towards the end of the pilot the Government will analyse what’s worked and what hasn’t and make a decision on rolling out a national programme.”
“One of the biggest constraints of a national bowel screening pilot will be the workforce to perform colonoscopies. Work is under way to ensure our endoscopy services are operating efficiently and effectively so they can cope with the increased workload that would inevitably arise from a national screening programme.”
“The pilot will provide us with vital information on participation levels, cancer detection rates, the impact on health services and whether a screening programme would be cost effective. The breast screening programme in New Zealand was also run as pilot prior to being rolled out nationally.”
New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation CEO Van Henderson said although they could not comment on Cox’s numbers, “we do think there’s a case for bowel cancer screening in New Zealand, as well as breast cancer screening.”
Read Ruth Laugesen’s feature story Bowel cancer: the silent killer, from the February 23 edition of the Listener, here Subscriber contentIcon definitionSubscriber content Ruth talks to doctors, scientists and patients and asks: Why don’t we have a screening programme? Also: how to tell if you are at risk.
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