45 and Up Study reveals new insights into bowel cancer screening uptake
Smokers were among those less likely to undergo bowel cancer screening
The study found that smokers were among the groups less likely to take up bowel cancer screening

Cancer Council NSW has called for a large-scale public education campaign to increase uptake of bowel cancer screening after new research into the 45 and Up Study shed light on which groups in the Australian community are less likely to access screening.

Smokers, disadvantaged groups and those from non-English speaking backgrounds were among those less likely to access screening, according to the analysis of colorectal cancer screening (CRC) behaviour among 91,968 study participants.

The 45 and Up Study is Australia’s largest cohort study, following the health of more than 250,000 NSW men and women aged 45 years and over, to enable researchers to answer a wide range of questions about the health and welfare of the older population.

Cancer Council NSW Director of Research and study co-author Professor Karen Canfell said more than 76% of those studied reported that they had been screened for bowel cancer previously, and 52% of those who were eligible for the Government’s National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) reported they had participated in the program.

However the findings, which were published in the journal Preventive Medicine, showed that the following groups had a lower likelihood of ever having taken up screening either through the national program or other means:

  • Current smokers
  • People who did not attend screening for other cancers
  • Those who had lower levels of education
  • People who did not speak English at home
  • People with self-reported poor health.

Ever-screening through the NBCSP was highest in those living in the least socio-economically disadvantaged areas (53%) and lowest in those living in the most socioeconomically disadvantaged areas (49.8%), the study found.

Findings prompt call for action

Director, Public Policy and Knowledge Management at Cancer Council Australia, Paul Grogan, said a wide-ranging education campaign was needed. In a media release about the findings he said:

“Our findings underpin the need for a large-scale mass media public education campaign to increase screening participant across the whole population, including in those less likely to screen.”

He added that the time was right for a comprehensive cancer prevention package, to improve bowel cancer screening participation and reduce smoking prevalence, and enable disadvantaged and high risk groups to take greater control of their health.

The value of cohort data

The study authors said the research, which was the first comprehensive assessment of factors associated with having taken part in CRC screening, demonstrated the value of data collected in large cohort studies.

“The use of prospectively collected personal data in a large cohort study brings new insight into factors related to participation in CRC screening, and specifically, screening through the NBCSP,” they wrote.

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