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Budgeting for bowel cancer; making sense of dollars and cents

Thursday 1 December, 2011 by Melissa

It's that magical time of the year. In the distance, you hear the sounds of rustling and jingling.

No, it's not Santa's sleigh filled with presents - it's the bean counters inside the Federal Government's vault counting cash in readiness for the Federal Government's pre-budget submissions. Ah, pre-budget submission time.

That festive time when the government's elf-like economists take out the old faithful calculator and an eraser looking for that illusive cost saving while muttering things like: "GST, carbon tax and fiduciary." Or at least that's what I imagine happens, I'm basing this on no firsthand knowledge whatsoever.

Cancer Council has made its pre-budget submission to the Federal Government asking for funding for a fully-implemented National Bowel Cancer Screening Program.

The proposal aims to expand the current program which ensures men and women aged 50, 55 and 65 receive a free screening test (a Faecal Occult Blood Test - FOBT) to check for bowel cancer. Cancer Council has asked the government for the money to fund a program so every Australian 50 and older receives a free FOBT every two years.

It's something Cancer Council has been fighting for, err, asking the Federal Government for many years now - especially since bowel cancer is Australia's second biggest cancer killer. Having a fully funded, national program makes perfect economic sense to us here at Cancer Council.

As we've mentioned before, the national screening program only offers free FOBTs to people aged 50, 55 and 65 - it's not enough to tackle the huge financial burden on the health system bowel cancer creates. FOBTs are designed to detect the early signs of bowel cancer and as avid readers of this blog will know, early bowel cancer can have no symptoms.

So, if a person who has no symptoms does an FOBT and pre-cancerous polyps are found - the only cost to the patient/tax payer/government may simply be a colonoscopy.

If it's caught at a later stage and the polyps have become bowel cancer - the treatment may require a colonoscopy plus surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and medication - all very expensive stuff. PBS data shows the average cost to the health system of treating an individual case of advanced bowel cancer has increased 10-fold over the past decade, from $6000 to $66,000.

With 14,234 Australians diagnosed with bowel cancer (at all stages) in 2007 alone, and taking into consideration this annual number will grow substantially as the baby boomer population ages, it makes sense to spend money on a program that could reduce these costs dramatically. More importantly, we know 90 per cent of bowel cancers are curable if found early - especially by an FOBT which is a simple, at-home test.

FOBTs can potentially save millions of lives (as well as millions of dollars). I mean, why wouldn't you fund it? Get the full financial argument here in Cancer Council's pre-budget submission.

And while we can talk about money, economics and budgets - what about the non-financial costs? Those emotional ones on the family and friends of people who die from bowel cancer - that is a toll no-one can put a price on. With an average of 73 people dying from bowel cancer in Australia every week, there are far too many people able to talk about the huge cost of losing a loved one.

So we ask the Federal Government to hear our plea, please fund a National Bowel Cancer Screening Program for all Australians 50 and older. We're also asking you in the blogosphere to hear our plea and put pressure on your local Member of Parliament to support our push for regular bowel screening.

We need all you passionate bowel cancer campaigners (like us here at Cancer Council) to email a letter to your MP via our Get Behind Bowel Screening website. C'mon - show your support for a fully funded national screening program - make the Federal Government pay attention to the second biggest cancer killer in this Great Southern Land.

It's time to Get Behind Bowel Screening and save Australian lives.

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