Oncologist says bowel screening benefits real

Scientific evidence supporting the merits of bowel screening is stronger than that for breast or prostate screening, Dunedin oncologist Christopher Jackson says.

Dr Jackson, who is also a senior lecturer at the Dunedin School of Medicine, contacted the Otago Daily Times about the disagreement between the Labour and Green parties aired last week over Labour's proposed bowel screening programme.

Dr Jackson believed there was no point waiting for the conclusion of the four-year pilot scheme in Waitemata.

''Screening for bowel cancer reduces death rates in those screened. The scientific evidence supporting bowel cancer screening is in my view stronger than the evidence supporting screening in breast, lung or prostate cancer.''

Overcoming the personnel shortage for performing colonoscopies was the big challenge of establishing a screening programme - but the pilot did nothing to address that, Dr Jackson said.

Launching the programme region by region would lead the workforce development.

''Workforce capacity is the issue that is going to determine the success of a national screening programme, and a national screening could not happen without growth in that workforce.''

Screening reduced both the rate of cancer development and deaths from the disease.

''It's highly successful internationally, and given that we've got one of the world's worst rates of bowel cancer, it is the right thing for us to do, and we need to develop the capacity to achieve that.''

The Government wants to wait until its four-year screening pilot concludes at the end of 2015 before deciding whether to launch it nationally.

The Green Party's health spokesman Kevin Hague agrees with that approach, and has criticised Labour's promise to launch a national screening programme if elected in September.


Bowel cancer screening

To be clear - screening itself will not develop workforce and a national and coordinated approach to workforce development is required to achieve this. 

Workforce development should be seen as an essential plank of a screening implementation, and part of the process. 

To reduce bowel cancer deaths we need to develop workforce as part of a committment to screening, not one or the other.

The Pilot will not develop workforce by itself but has other useful functions. A committment to bowel cancer screening and to solving the barriers to implementation is probably the single biggest step we can take to reduce the incidence and death rates from bowel cancer. 

Chris Jackson, Senior Lecturer in Medicine 

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