St George and Sutherland Shire residents are being urged to participate in bowel cancer screening after new figures showed almost 600 people within the area health service will be diagnosed with the disease this year and 182 people will die.
New figures from the Cancer Institute NSW show about 590 people in South Eastern Sydney Local Health District (SESLHD) will be diagnosed with bowel cancer this year alone, and 182 will die from the disease.
However, experts say taking a simple test could save lives.
Regular bowel cancer screening can help detect cancer early and, in some cases, prevent it by picking up changes before cancer develops.
Bowel cancer screening test kits are sent to eligible Australians aged 50 to 74 every two years as part of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program.
The test, which can be done at home, can detect potential warning signs of bowel cancer early before symptoms develop.
But only 41 per cent of test kits sent out in NSW are returned.
Chief Cancer Officer and Cancer Institute NSW chief executive Professor David Currow said doing the test as soon as it arrived in the mail provided the best protection.
"Bowel cancer screening saves lives and it can help people avoid the distress and burden of a cancer diagnosis," Professor Currow said.
"Many people don't know that, similar to a cervical screening test; bowel cancer screening can often help detect pre-cancerous polyps that can be treated before cancer develops."
Bowel cancer remains Australia's second biggest cancer killer, with 1830 people in NSW expected to die this year. However, Professor Currow is confident the death toll can be reduced.
In 2018, participants in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program had close to 1700 suspected and confirmed bowel cancers identified, along with more than 6000 growths such as polyps, which had the potential to become cancerous.
"When found early, bowel cancer can be successfully treated in more than 90 per cent of cases," Professor Currow said.
"The removal of these lowers the risk of bowel cancer developing."
St George Hospital-based Associate Professor Winston Liauw is the Clinical Stream Director of Cancer Services for SESLHD and urged anyone eligible for bowel cancer screening to take part.
"Nearly 200 people in SESLHD will lose their life to bowel cancer this year," he said.
"My message to everyone in our community is do the test when it comes in the post, don't put it off.
"This piece of mail could save your life. We need people to stop putting the test away in a drawer and forgetting about it."
Anyone with symptoms of bowel cancer or a change in bowel habits should talk to their GP.
Details: National Cancer Screening Register, phone 1800 627 701, 8am-6pm, Monday to Friday.