LIFE CHOICE: University of Southern Queensland researcher Belinda Goodwin discusses the bowel cancer test kit with Cancer Council QLD volunteer, Vicky Bloxsom, and why so many people don't use it.
LIFE CHOICE: University of Southern Queensland researcher Belinda Goodwin discusses the bowel cancer test kit with Cancer Council QLD volunteer, Vicky Bloxsom, and why so many people don't use it.

Don't let fear of your faeces kill you

THE "yuck factor" stops up to 60 per cent of us from taking part in a potentially lifesaving health screen.

Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in Australia after lung cancer.

One in 23 people - male and female - is diagnosed with the disease before their 75th birthday and 80 people die each week.

More than 90 per cent of bowel cancer is found in people aged 50 years and over.

But early detection means more than 90 per cent of bowel cancers can be successfully treated.

Free bowel screening test kits are sent to everyone aged 50-74 every two years, so why do so few of us use them?

That's what Belinda Goodwin, from the University of Southern Queensland, in association with Cancer Council Queensland, is attempting to discover.

"There are a lot of people working on raising awareness of bowel cancer and its risks but we are examining the other barriers - physical, cultural and language," Belinda said.

The kits include equipment and directions to collect two small stool samples and send them in a prepaid envelope for testing.

It doesn't sound too hard.

But initial survey results have found many of us, even with the best of intentions, never so much as take the kits into the bathroom where they can be used.

"That's a pretty big physical barrier to start with," Belinda said.

"So, we encourage everyone, when they receive the kits, to put them into the bathroom, that's step one."

Step two is to face your fears ... and your faeces.

Reducing proximity to the stool sample by providing a longer collection stick and more protective gear in the kit are two options Belinda's study is examining.

(A flushable toilet liner to place over the toilet bowl is already included.)

Similar initiatives overseas have been investigated and various options to make the kits more user-friendly are being discussed.

Belinda is currently seeking volunteers aged 45-80 to take part in focus groups and interviews to gain a better understanding of exactly what will increase participation.

It doesn't matter whether you have participated in a screening in the past or not.

Australia has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world, with lifestyle choices including diet, alcohol and exercise accounting for 50 per cent of variance.

Family history and genetics are other factors involved, but it is not a male-only disease, a common misconception in survey responses.

One of the major problems, Belinda said, is that most people have no outward symptoms of bowel cancer until it is too late.

By potentially detecting microscopic traces of blood in the stool sample, the test kits can lead to a recommendation for further testing as needed for early detection and treatment.

Of 2.5 million participant screenings since the kits were first sent out in 2006, there have been 4000 cancer diagnoses and a further 12,294 benign, pre-cancerous tumours or polyps (which can grow into cancers) detected.

That's potentially thousands of lives saved.

To take part in Belinda's study, phone 131120 or email her at belindagoodwin @cancerqld.org.au.

Toowoomba Hospital Foundation is running a free bowel health information session with morning tea at 10am on Tuesday, July 16.

RSVP to Stacey on 0746166166 or email stacey@toowoomba hospitalfoundation.org.au by noon Friday, July 12.


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