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The rate of bowel cancer among Generation Xers is on the rise and lowering the starting age for screening from 50 to 45 would help prevent more people dying, according to a new report.

Commissioned by Bowel Cancer Australia and undertaken by social demographer Bernard Salt, the Protecting nine million Australians: the case for screening from age 45 report examined the growing impact of bowel cancer in people under 50 and the potential benefits of lowering the screening age.

The report reveals there were 14,000 new bowel cancer cases in younger Australians between 2006 and 2016, with Gen Xers aged 45-49 most at risk, and a similar spike in bowel cancer deaths in people aged 30-34. It calls for the extension of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) to include people aged 45-74 (currently 50-74) to help reduce deaths and protect an extra two million Australians.

“A widening of the screening program beginning at age 45 would bring around two million extra Australians into the safety net of this program, reducing mortality from bowel cancer and preventing family trauma in a relatively young lifecycle stage,” author Bernard Salt said.

“Looking at historic and projected mortality rates, it is evident that bowel cancer is a major threat to the 45-49 age group.”

The report shows a 72% spike in bowel cancer detection rates in Australian between the ages of 49 and 50, with 45% of cancers diagnosed at an advanced stage, pointing to undetected cancers in the late 40s population.

“Of the top 10 cancers, bowel cancer is the only cancer to show an increase in mortality rates from 2008 to 2018 and projected to 2021 in the 45-49 cohort. It is also the cancer that responds best to the kind of early detection offered by a screening program.”

The report, released on the back of the recent recommendation from the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) for screening to start at age 45, also reveals a spike in bowel cancer deaths among people aged 25-34 unaware of the risks, suggesting an education and awareness campaign aimed at millennials could help combat the late detection of the disease resulting in high mortality rates.

“The leap in bowel cancer deaths in those aged 30-34 over the last decade is especially worrying,” Mr Salt said.

Bowel Cancer Australia CEO Julien Wiggins said the report backs the charity’s calls to lower the screening age from 50 to 45.

Between 2006 and 2016, there were around 14,000 new bowel cancer cases in Australians aged under 50 and over 2,700 deaths. More than half of new cases diagnosed were at an advanced stage when the cancer is harder to treat and survival rates low.

Further, between 2014 and 2018, Australia recorded 26,000 bowel cancer deaths. If detected at its earliest stage, bowel cancer can be successfully treated in almost 99% of cases.

“Given rising rates of bowel cancer in younger Australians, a lower start-age for screening should be part of the solution, along with improved symptom awareness for millennials and their GPs,” Mr Wiggins said.

Access the full Protecting nine million Australians: the case for screening from age 45 here

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