The women fighting to change community response to bowel cancer


Research shows the rates of participation in taking the at-home, bowel cancer ‘poo test’ are low, particularly among some of Australia’s ethnic communities. But these women are on a mission to change that.

Preview above: Insight finds out why so many Australians are getting bowel cancer and what can be done to prevent it. Preventing Bowel Cancer, Tuesday April 16 at 8:30pm on SBS and SBS On Demand.

Bowel cancer can be successfully treated in 90 per cent of cases if found early, making it one of the most preventable cancers.

A boost in bowel screening participation by 20 per cent could save 83,800 lives by 2040, however, Professor Mark Jenkins from the University of Melbourne said there are barriers to this.

“The most common reasons for not participating include; not having time, it’s embarrassing or icky, I’m scared of finding out I have cancer,” Professor Jenkins said.

"On average people who don’t speak English at home have a lower participation rate.”

An unpublished Australian Institute of Health and Welfare analysis found those who speak Greek, Italian, Macedonian, Arabic, Hindi and Tamil at home may participate at lower rates.

Karthikeyan Krishnan
Tamil speaker Karthikeyan Krishnan, was diagnosed with bowel cancer in February. Photo: Insight

The ‘poo test’ instructions are available in 22 languages on the screening program website, including Hindi, however the Tamil translations are still in progress.  

Tamil speaker, Karthikeyan Krishnan, was diagnosed with bowel cancer in February after skipping two 'poo tests'. 

"[I was] under the false pretense that people who eat normally vegetarian or white meat are not susceptible to bowel cancer."

"I presumed that I'm not susceptible to bowel cancer, but it’s since been proved that yes, everyone is capable of getting it."

A group of women are on a mission to increase awareness among the community about bowel cancer.

Last year, community group Pink Sari Inc. was granted $10,000 to increase bowel cancer screening awareness in Hindi and Tamil speaking communities.

Pink Sari
In June 2018 Pink Sari expanded their mission to bowel cancer screening. Photo: Supplied

Pink Sari launched in 2014 and boosted community breast screening rates by 17 per cent; in June 2018 they expanded to bowel cancer screening.

President of Pink Sari Inc., Shantha Viswanathan, said “everyone knows about breast cancer, but there’s very little knowledge about bowel cancer.”

“We’ve had a 100 per cent success with our workshops, because people have told us they never understood how to use the screening test until we actually demonstrated it to them.”

Krishnan, who is still recovering from his surgery, has a clear message for those who, like him, don't want to do the test.

“Those few minutes of poking something into your poo is nothing, it might be disgusting, but it’s nothing compared to these months of pain.”

Source SBS Insight

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