Getting behind cancer test

A grant of $553,196 has been awarded to fund research that could improve the survival and recovery rates of colorectal cancer patients.

The research will use the pioneering ‘Colvera’ blood test in patients who have already had bowel cancer.

Principal Medical Scientist and Team Leader of the Bowel Health Service at Adelaide’s Flinders Medical Centre Dr Erin Symonds says bowel cancer is one of the most common cancers in Australia.

“Despite surgery, one-quarter to one-third of patients will have the cancer return within three years,” she said.

“With colleagues, we have developed and evaluated a blood test that can detect bowel cancer and we will now determine if it can also be used to determine which patients are at higher risk for cancer recurrence.

“This would allow specialists to focus therapies, especially chemotherapy, on those who are likely to most benefit – and avoid it in those who don’t need it,” she says.

Cancer Australia says fewer than 50 per cent of cases of bowel cancer are diagnosed at an early stage when it can be most successfully treated. An average of  46 people a day are diagnosed with bowel cancer in Australia and about 11 a day die from the disease.

While bowel cancer is one of the most preventable cancers and could be successfully treated if diagnosed early, 24 per cent of cases are diagnosed at stage three and 18 per cent at stage four in Australia.

Modifiable risk factors for bowel cancer include being overweight, physical inactivity, a low intake of dietary fibre, a high intake of red or processed meat, high alcohol consumption and smoking.

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) – also developed from earlier research at Flinders – provides an important way in which Australians aged 50-74 can reduce their risk of the disease and improve their chance of early diagnosis.

A recent analysis of the NBCSP by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows that bowel cancer screening is effective in reducing bowel cancer death rates, yet participation remains low at 41 per cent.

The federal government is aiming to send a kit every two years to people aged 50-74 by 2020.

If detected early, up to 90 per cent of cases can be successfully treated.

Symptoms to watch for include a change in bowel habits, bleeding from the rectum, unexplained weight loss, tiredness or fatigue, abdominal pain, cramping or bloating.

For more about bowel cancer, go to Cancer Australia’s National Cancer Control Indicators website: https://ncci.canceraustralia.gov.au/

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