Many Australians could be shying away from bowel cancer screening tests, according to research undertaken by Swinburne PhD student Victoria Hamilton.
Bowel cancer claims about 80 Australian lives every week and in 2008 the National Bowel Screening Program was introduced to help detect bowel cancer early and improve survival rates. Yet compared to other screening programs such as breast and cervical cancer, bowel cancer testing has an especially poor uptake.
Early data from Hamilton's study suggests different sources of fear are significant contributors to this poor uptake. Participants reported feelings of fear that they might find out they had the cancer, as well as fear of experiencing complications, pain or discomfort during testing, and seeming like a hypochondriac. Many people also reported high levels of embarrassment in discussing their bowel health with their GPs or family.
"I think it's important that we understand not just what people think about testing for bowel cancer, but also how it makes them feel, and whether different types of emotions influence their decision to be screened," said Hamilton. "People often refer to their emotions during interviews on bowel screening, but there isn't a thorough empirical understanding in the health community about how these various sources of emotion affect their screening choices."
Bowel cancer can develop without any major warning signs, and testing for its presence is one of the only ways to detect it during early stages. The symptoms themselves can mimic other more benign illnesses and are often so vague they do not arouse suspicion.
Under the National Bowel Screening Program, Australians turning 50, 55 or 65 can do a self-test bowel cancer check which is non-invasive and can be carried out in the privacy of your own home. If detected early, bowel cancer has a 90 per cent cure rate.