A MEDICAL expert has given an enthusiastic thumbs-up to the bowel cancer tests sent to Australians in the post.
They are an effective way to save lives, says Dr Graeme Young, who has conducted a study that proves the tests work.
However, only about 40 per cent of the people who receive the tests post them back, says Dr Young, Professor of Gastroenterology at Flinders University in Adelaide.
That should change from 2014, he says, with the federal government expected to actively promote public awareness and participation.
“This is a screening program that clearly works, says Dr Young, a speaker at a Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia (RCPA) conference in Melbourne.
It enables doctors to detect cancer at a highly curable stage. If you detect bowel cancer early it is more than 95 per cent curable.
Screening is essential, he says, because bowel cancer usually does not have symptoms in the first three or four years.
People with positive test results are sent for colonoscopies.
About 100,000 people have sent back their tests so far, which has saved hundreds of lives.
Thousands of lives a year could be saved once participation rises, says Dr Young, although the test is not perfect and some cancers could be missed.
Bowel cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in Australia, and about 80 people die a week from the disease, according to the Department of Health.
At present Australians turning 50, 55, 60 or 65 years of age, who hold a Medicare card or DVA card, are invited to take part in the program.
The aim is to expand it so all Australians aged 50 to 74 are offered a test every two years.