Karen is living proof that screening saves lives: Why you should ‘Get2it’, too
By Cancer Council NSW
Karen Grega has always been an active person through her love of football (soccer). She’s also one to stay on top of her health. So, she wasn’t initially worried when she did a bowel cancer screening test.
But in Karen’s words, “the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program is the only reason I’m here talking to you today. With early detection, it’s one of the most treatable forms of cancer”.
Karen’s cancer experience began in January 2020, just as the first case of COVID-19 was reported in NSW. A letter from the National Bowel Screening Program confirmed that her sample had tested positive for faecal occult blood. Karen had had a normal colonoscopy less than a year previously, and she wasn’t experiencing any bowel cancer symptoms, such as a change in bowel habits, blood in her poo, or abdominal pain. And for those reasons, and the clear colonoscopy 11 months earlier, she actually considered not doing the test. Her change of heart saved her life!
“After speaking with my GP who also received a copy of the letter, she contacted my Gastroenterologist who asked me to come back in for another colonoscopy, and a few days later I was told he’d detected some cancer cells. It wasn’t until I met with the colorectal surgeon soon after and heard the words “You have rectal cancer”, that the reality of the situation hit home,” says Karen, who was 62 when she was diagnosed.
Fortunately, after a number of surgeries and treatments over the next two years, Karen is now over 12 months’ cancer free.
Why more people aged 50-74 should do the test like Karen
Australia has a free National Bowel Cancer Screening Program which means we all receive a bowel cancer screening kit every two years from age 50-74. If we all do the test when it arrives, we can get peace of mind, as it can detect the earliest signs of bowel cancer. If caught early, almost 90% of bowel cancers can be successfully treated, just like Karen’s.
Currently, around 43.8% of eligible people in Australia take part in the screening program. At this current level of participation, the program is expected to prevent 92,200 new cancer cases and 59,000 deaths between 2015 and 2040. This goes to show how small actions can bring about a huge benefit.
However, we believe we can do even better as a country. Cancer Council NSW research projects that, if we can raise participation to just 60%, we could save almost 84,000 lives by 2040. Because the screening test is such an easy thing to do, we truly believe this 60% is attainable.
Promoting screening makes a real difference
We also know that raising awareness about bowel cancer screening makes a significant difference, so we invite you to help us spread the word.
In 2019, Cancer Council Australia delivered a national campaign to promote the program, with funding from the Australian Government. Follow-up research found that this campaign was directly responsible for an additional 93,000 people completing the screening test. Over the next 50 years, this will prevent 860 cases of bowel cancer and save an incredible 470 lives.
Cancer Council Australia, in partnership with the Australian Government, ran another campaign in 2022 and has just begun its 2023 campaign across TV, radio, web and social media. You might have seen the campaign already, it’s called ‘Get2it: Don’t put off the chance to save your life’. We hope you can help us share it far and wide.