Standing up for Canberra

Bowel Cancer

I too would like to use this opportunity to thank the member for Dobell for bringing this motion to the attention of the House. It is a particularly important issue. I think that all of the speakers have mentioned that the level of awareness is relatively low across the Australian community. So I commend the member for bringing this motion before us.

As an ambassador for ovarian cancer, I know that we have had challenges in raising awareness about the symptoms of ovarian cancer over the years since I was appointed ambassador. In some ways, like bowel cancer, the symptoms are invisible or they get associated with some other disease. One of the symptoms of ovarian cancer is abdominal bloating and abdominal pain, and that can be associated with so many other illnesses. So the fact that we are having this conversation in the House on this issue is particularly important and, again, I commend the member for bringing it to our attention because, for a cancer that claims nearly 4,000 lives every year, it is not a cancer that we hear enough about. I welcome this motion so that the parliament can recognise and raise awareness of the illness.

According to Bowel Cancer Australia, bowel cancer is a malignant growth that develops most commonly in the lining of the large bowel. Most bowel cancers develop from tiny growths called polyps. Over time, some polyps can become cancerous, and cancer can narrow and block the bowel or cause bleeding. In more advanced cases, the cancer can spread beyond the bowel to other organs. As most bowel cancers start as polyps, all polyps should be removed to reduce the risk of developing the disease. Once removed from the bowel, the polyp can no longer develop into cancer. Even if a polyp develops into cancer, in its early stages it can be cured by surgery. In fact, when found early—and this is a really important message that we need to send and, again, this is why I commend the member for bringing it to our attention—90 per cent of bowel cancer cases can be successfully treated. That is a very profound and powerful figure. It is so important to catch this cancer in its early stages.

In February this year, Bowel Cancer Australia ran a campaign to raise awareness of bowel cancer and encourage more Australians to screen for the disease with the tagline 'Don't wait until it's too late', particularly given those success rates if it is caught early. That is why the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program is so important, offering Australians turning 50, 55, 60 or 65 a free at home bowel cancer test and, from this year, people turning 70 or 74 will also be invited to screen. Other age groups will be added progressively so that, by 2020, all Australians aged 50 to 74 will be able to be screened every two years. The program has enjoyed bipartisan support for decades, which I hope will continue.

It is important for those aged over 50 to undergo regular screening for bowel cancer. It is also important that people are aware of the risk factors and symptoms. The member for Solomon pointed out that a young woman aged 21 had all the symptoms. You are at higher risk of bowel cancer if you are over 50, have a significant family history of bowel cancer or polyps, have an inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn's disease or colitis and have previously had polyps in the bowel. The symptoms include bleeding from the rectum or any sign of blood in a bowel motion; a recent and persistent change in bowel habit; unexplained tiredness, which is a symptom of anaemia; and abdominal pain. Importantly, people can lower their risk of developing bowel cancer by having a healthy diet, by exercising regularly and by reducing alcohol consumption.

Australia has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world. I really wonder why that is the case. Is it our diet? Is it our lifestyle? Around one in 23 Australians will develop bowel cancer during their lifetime. It is the second most common type of newly diagnosed cancer in Australia and affects men and women equally. It is Australia's second biggest cancer killer, with more than 15,000 Australians diagnosed each year. These are scary statistics. I encourage all Australians to be aware of the risks and symptoms and to undergo regular screening tests if they are over 50. Walking past my chemist the other day, I saw a sign about regular testing and I thought: I've got to go and do that. So this weekend is the time.

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