Plea for more attention to  bowel cancer
Poor awareness: Bowel cancer survivor Phil Illingworth. Picture: Sharon Smith/The West Australian

The Federal Government has been urged to address inequalities in the treatment and attention given to bowel cancer compared with more high-profile forms of cancer.

Bowel Cancer Australia claims there are fewer services and drugs for bowel cancer patients compared with those with breast or prostate cancers, leaving many believing they had the "wrong cancer".

A survey commissioned by BCA indicated victims felt bowel cancer had been stigmatised as a "dirty" disease.

BCA chief executive Julien Wiggins said 60 per cent of those surveyed believed the subject was not generally discussed for this reason.

"There is a yuck factor associated with bowels and the poo test, and when people raise the subject, it kills the conversation," he said.

Mr Wiggins said the trend undermined public awareness about symptoms linked to the second biggest cancer killer and prevented some people from getting screened every two years from 50 years old, which would help reduce deaths by about one-third.

He said treatment for advanced-stage patients was limited to only three subsidised drugs on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in Australia, well below the number for more high-profile cancers. Mr Wiggins wants at least two more advanced-stage drugs that are available overseas included on the PBS.

Bowel cancer survivor Phil Illingworth blames poor awareness as the reason he and his general practitioner initially dismissed his symptoms for two years.

Mr Illingworth, 55, said while there were some counselling and practical services, they were not as readily available as for those with some other types of cancer.

He said a friend who had breast cancer at the same time had been able to rely on a much more widespread emotional and practical support network. Mr Illingworth has beaten the disease with radiation, chemotherapy and surgery.

Colorectal surgeon Michael Levitt said medical awareness was high but better public education could prompt patients to push for blood and stool screening when busy general practitioners mistakenly overlooked the need.

The West Australian

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