Beating poo phobia and bowel cancer

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When Donna Porteous received her bowel cancer screening kit in the mail just after she turned 50, she didn’t think twice about what she needed to do.

Donna

“Don’t ask me why, but I just had a feeling that I needed to complete the test. I sent the test off and didn’t give it much more thought as we were heading off on a wonderful European holiday. We had the time of our lives and loved every minute of it,” she said.

“But upon our arrival home I had a letter from the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBSCP) telling me that I had a positive test and needed to see my GP.”

Donna had no symptoms and didn’t consider herself a likely candidate for bowel cancer so she was shocked when it came back positive. A diagnosis of stage two cancer followed, which meant doctors had to remove half her bowel.

“There is no question about it, the test saved my life and I was very lucky that they caught it when they did,” the 52 year old said.

“The cancer was so close to breaking through the bowel wall.”

Despite it being a free test, the participation rate in WA in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program remains low at just 41%, and for many the sticking point remains a fear of poo.

So in an innovative new approach, Cancer Council Western Australia invoked the help of scary ‘poo villains’ in a new digital campaign to sheet home the message that bowel cancer is Australia’s number two cancer killer so we need to beat poo phobia and use the bowel screening kit rather than throw it away.

‘Stick it to number 2’ was the message and the aim was to boost the number of eligible West Australians who participate in the program which invites Australians over the age of 50 to screen for bowel cancer using a free and simple test at home. 

Melissa Ledger, Cancer Council WA’s Cancer Prevention and Research Director, said despite the fact bowel cancer is one of the top causes of cancer death in WA, the participation rates remain low so the purpose of the new campaign was to promote discussion about bowel screening and to hopefully ‘normalise’ the testing process.  

“We know it’s largely embarrassment and anxiety that result in people throwing away their kits without using them, but we also know those who have completed the screening kit find it easy and convenient.

“People over 50 might recognise some of the ‘poo villains’ used in the campaign from movies such as The Exorcist, Dracula, and Silence of the Lambs,” Melissa said.

“Our hope was that using scary poo in a humorous way would remove the poo phobia and get people to ‘stick it to number 2’ which is far easier than people think.”

Melissa said using the kit, which is delivered via the mail, can prevent up to 90% of bowel cancers when found early.

Donna said she can’t stress strongly enough how important the screening is. 

“For some reason people seem to find ‘poo’ a taboo subject – even though it’s a natural part of everyone’s life.  It isn’t difficult or messy to complete the screening.  It’s actually a very simple, clean process that takes very little time or effort.

“It’s amazing how many people I have discussed poo with since my diagnosis! I’ve spoken with so many people who’ve had some signs that could potentially indicate something of concern in their body but have still not completed the test,” she said.

“I’ve urged them to take the test and see their doctor; I’ve made it my aim in life to educate and warn as many people as possible about the importance of the testing and of not ignoring warning signs.”

Donna