Bowel cancer screening boost for South Eastern Melbourne

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Pictured: Cancer Council Victoria's Clare O'Reilly and Kelly S, standing alongside SEMPHN's Laura E.

Pictured: Cancer Council Victoria's Clare O'Reilly and Keryann Lotfi-Jam, standing beside SEMPHN's Laura E (centre). 

To complement the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP), Cancer Council Victoria, with funding from South Eastern Melbourne Primary Health Network (SEMPHN), has been working to increase bowel cancer screening participation rates across south eastern Melbourne. 

As part of the NBCSP, everyone aged 50-74 is encouraged to use the bowel cancer screening kit, sent to them for free by the Australian government, every two years. 

The project has been enormously successful. In the first six months, almost 5000 additional screening kits have been analysed.  

The three-fold approach includes:

  1. educating general practices about the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP)
  2. educating community to increase their knowledge and willingness to screen
  3. raising awareness through media and communication strategies. 

Working with general practices to support the community

Alongside Professor Jon Emery at the University of Melbourne, Cancer Council Victoria developed a toolkit for general practices to increase their knowledge, confidence and intention to promote the NBCSP. This is known as academic detailing.

Clare O’Reilly, Cancer Council Victoria’s Screening, Early Detection & Immunisation Primary Care Engagement Manager, tells us more. 

“GP endorsement is a key factor for people to follow through with bowel cancer screening. People go to their doctor for advice. They value their doctor’s opinion because it’s someone they can trust.”

“So far, our two nurses have provided training to over 100 general practices across four Local Government Areas,” Clare says. 

Greater Dandenong, City of Casey, Mornington Peninsula and Stonnington are targeted as a result of low screening rates. 

“Our nurses are totally across the information and are open to a clinically-focused conversation. We found the clinician-to-clinician approach worked extremely well.”

Barriers to cancer screening

Statistically, men and people aged 50-59 are less likely to participate in the NBCSP. Other under-screened groups include LGBTI+ communities, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people and people from Culturally And Linguistically Diverse (CALD) communities. 

“If the messages aren’t simple or in someone’s first language, it’s often a barrier to screening” Clare explains. 

However, language is just one factor that might stop people from screening. Other barriers include embarrassment associated with the myth that they need to touch their faeces, cultural barriers, concerns about cancer or the fear of positive test results. 

Positive test results mean blood has been found in the sample but could be related to conditions other than cancer. An appointment with a general practitioner will be necessary to discuss the results and next steps. 

“Health literacy is also a factor,” says Clare. “The information needs to be relatable. That’s why we consulted with the community to discover some of the barriers and enablers to screening, and asked people in the community to help spread the word through video or posters.”

Working closely with the community

Cancer Council Victoria attends community events to increase awareness of bowel cancer, speak about the importance of screening and demonstrate how the screening kit works. 

Each community event is tailored to the community needs. This includes having a bilingual health facilitator or an Aboriginal liaison officer to present key messages in the language of the community members.

“Community members have told us that because of these events their knowledge and willingness to screen has increased” Clare says.  

“Older people in the eligible age group have higher bowel screening participation rates,” Clare explains, “although once a person screens for the first time there’s a 78% chance they will screen again when next invited.”

Smooth sailing with SEMPHN

South Eastern Melbourne PHN wants everyone in our community to be able to access the right care, in the right place, at the right time, which is why Cancer Council Victoria was commissioned to increase bowel cancer screening rates in the catchment. 

“Working with SEMPHN has been quite smooth sailing,” Clare says. “The processes are straight forward and we know we can touch base or raise concerns at any time. 

“SEMPHN is very approachable.”

For more information about bowel cancer screening, visit

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