That screening test might just save your life

Cancer is an absolute mongrel of an illness. Talk to anyone who has been touched by it - and in these times there are few who haven't - and you will realise that a great many people are diagnosed with the disease after exhibiting few symptoms.

TAKE THE TEST: Screening programs, such as mammograms for detecting breast cancer, can save lives.

TAKE THE TEST: Screening programs, such as mammograms for detecting breast cancer, can save lives.

In the not-too-distant future, I'm going to celebrate one of those significant birthdays that end with a zero.

Unlike other "zero" birthdays, though, this one will come with a special card from the government.

I am, of course, referring to the screening kit that is sent out to people aged between 50 and 74 as part of the national bowel cancer screening program.

Yeah, I don't particularly want to think about it either, but given that currently only about a third of eligible Australians actually participate in the program, we need to talk about it.

In NSW, one person in 13 will be diagnosed with bowel cancer during their lifetime and it is most common in people aged above 50.

But the good news is that if it is caught early, about 90 per cent of bowel cancer cases can be treated successfully.

Still don't want to think about it because actually doing the screening program sounds a bit gross?

Well, let's be honest. We have to think about it and we have to do it.

It's a quick process and it could, quite literally, save our lives.

Like any screening program, there are going to be both false positives and cases that go undiagnosed. But that is not a good enough reason not to take part when the screening test is delivered, free of charge, to your letterbox.

Cancer is an absolute mongrel of an illness. Talk to anyone who has been touched by it - and in these times there are few who haven't - and you will realise that a great many people are diagnosed with the disease after exhibiting few symptoms.

It can metaphorically sneak up on people and deliver the most devastating of coward's punches.

That is why screening is so important, and not just for bowel cancer. Off the top of my head, I can also think of national screening programs for cervical and breast cancers, and the checks for prostate cancer are improving all the time.

Of course, as a nation of sun lovers, we Australians have long been hearing the "slip, slop, slap" message when it comes to skin cancer and the importance of having regular checks on any of those moles, lumps and weird little bumps that can pop up.

According to the Cancer Council, between 145,000 and 150,000 new cases of cancer are expected to be diagnosed in Australia this year. Rather frighteningly, one in two Australian men and women will be diagnosed with cancer by the age of 85.

This disease is a leading cause of death in Australia, with almost 50,000 deaths from cancer estimated for 2019, the Cancer Council says.

We all know there are different risk factors for individual cancers and many are linked to lifestyle.

But we also know that even if you do everything that's recommended, it is still possible to develop cancer, which is why those screenings programs and check-ups are so important.

A cancer diagnosis can be absolutely devastating.

Even in a first-world country in the 21st century, treatment is not a walk in the park.

Often surgery is required, followed by a lengthy program of chemotherapy, radiotherapy or immunotherapy. While these treatments are often - thankfully - successful, they are gruelling and can have hefty side effects.

If you've been through it, or watched a loved one deal with the diagnosis and treatment, you know what I'm talking about. As the saying goes, you wouldn't wish it on your worst enemy.

We know that despite the ground-breaking advances in treatments, they don't always come with guarantees of success, which is why early detection is so important.

With depressing regularity, we hear that people in regional areas - like those older male farmers, for example - are not as good at taking advantage of screening programs. People talk about access to services, the tyranny of distance and all that, but cancer doesn't care about any of that.

For yourself and for the people who love you, when that testing kit, or that reminder notice, arrives in the mail, please act on it.

This story That screening test might just save your life first appeared on The Canberra Times.