The Cancer Council has called for the rollout of the national bowel cancer screening program to be sped up, after research showed it could save hundreds of lives.
Research published in The Medical Journal of Australia on Monday shows that people who participated in the screening program were twice as likely as others to be diagnosed with bowel cancer at its earliest stage, when it is easiest to treat. People who were not screened were twice as likely to be diagnosed at the disease's latest stage, when it is more difficult to treat.
The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program was launched in 2006, and consists of one-off tests for 50, 55 and 65-year-olds.
People are sent a kit to collect faeces samples at home, which they send back for laboratory analysis. It is proposed to expand the program progressively until screening is offered every two years for people aged 50 to 74.
But the program is not due to be fully implemented until after 2030.
Bowel cancer is the second-highest cause of cancer death in Australia, after lung cancer.
For the study, researchers examined data from more than 3000 South Australian bowel cancer patients, and concluded that screening ''works in practice'' and was likely to reduce bowel cancer deaths.
The Cancer Council estimates screening would reduce deaths from bowel cancer by between 30 and 40 per cent in the over-50 population.
Cancer Council chief executive Ian Olver said a conservative estimate of the number of lives that would be saved by a fully implemented program was 500 a year.
Professor Olver said the program was ''nowhere near'' realising its potential because it had been only partially implemented, and the participation rate was low, at 40 per cent.
He said the positive results should encourage the government to accelerate rollout of the screening program. In the interim, it should actively promote the scheme to those who were already eligible to take part, he said.