Tasmania has the highest bowel cancer mortality rate in Australia, despite being the second highest participator in the National Bowel Cancer Screening program.
One factor contributing to this, according to University of Tasmania Centre for Rural Health’s Dr Simone Lee, is waiting times for colonoscopies.
Dr Lee’s was one of about 40 guest speakers at Thursday’s Annual Rural Health and Collaborative Research Symposium held at Penny Royal.
Bringing together UTAS research students, staff and collaborative partners, the event showcased research projects with the potential to improve rural health in Tasmania.
Presentations explored the themes of rural health workforce development, training strategies and innovative delivery modes to meet community needs.
Dr Lee, whose research explores factors associated with bowel cancer survival, said people living in rural areas often faced considerable barriers in relation to accessing health care.
“I think of it as extra layers of care,” she said.
“When we are talking about colonoscopies for instance, the distance to come to a city like Launceston or Hobart, it plays a big part.
“Isolation and access to services remain some of the bigger hurdles we need to be addressing.”
In Tasmania, the average time between a positive screening result and a colonoscopy is 67 days – more than twice the recommended 30 day timeframe.
Dr Lee said her research aimed to explore how screening, diagnosis, and demographic characteristics influenced bowel cancer survival in Tasmania – all factors still largely unknown.
“Knowledge is very powerful, but to change behaviours people need more than just information,” she said.
“For bowel cancer screenings, one of the biggest predictors is the act of a GP saying ‘take the test’.
“The education can be there, but if you have a GP acting on that, it’s going to be more effective.
“And if people are waiting 12 months in the public system to have colonoscopy, in that time the cancer could kill them.”
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