Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death, claiming the lives of 4,346 Australians and 1,372 Victorians every year, yet if detected early 90% of bowel cancers can be treated successfully. Unfortunately 1.9 million Australians – 59% of those eligible – ignored the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program’s free home screening test in the two years from 2015 to 2016.
Cancer Council Victoria’s 2017 donor-funded mass media campaign aimed to encourage more Victorians to do the test when it arrives at their home. Using the potency of a personal storytelling, the ‘Do the home screening test – it could save your life’ campaign set out to raise awareness of the seriousness of bowel cancer, educate the public about the existence of the test and provide a compelling reason to do it by showing the loved ones of people who had died from bowel cancer – grief which could have so easily been avoided.
The $1 million campaign used TV, radio, and digital media as well as GP waiting room advertising to reach the broad population from July – September 2017. The latter as a result of extensive focus testing which revealed that many people who were exposed to information about the screening kit would most commonly speak to their GP about it. Focus testing with target audiences and communities also indicated that the most common motivator for non-completers to do the test was to receive a recommendation with their doctor.
The campaign also sought to reach Greek, Italian and Aboriginal communities who are less likely to screen and are potentially at greater risk.
As a result of the campaign the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program participation rate in Victoria increased from 42.7% to 57.2% over the campaign period. No such increase was reported in South Australia (control state). This translated to an increase of almost 1,400 people participating in the program for each week of the campaign, approximately 12,500 additional people participating in total, with 77% of these likely to rescreen in two years. The increased screening likely led to the detection of 26 extra cancers, 187 polyps, and 93 adenomas (potentially pre-cancerous) being found, potentially saving the lives of hundreds of Victorians with just seven weeks of advertising.