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How mapping risk factors for Australia's second biggest cancer killer is helping to raise awareness and encourage local communities to take preventative action.

InstantAtlas in action

Bowel cancer is Australia's second biggest cancer killer and Bowel Cancer Australia is a national charity with a vision to reduce incidence, death and suffering association with bowel cancer through advocacy, awareness, education, support and research. It aims to achieve its vision in a number of ways including the development of community awareness and education programmes to increase knowledge about bowel cancer and encouraging participation in bowel cancer screening for the early detection of bowel cancer. Chief executive Julien Wiggins tells us how interactive mapping is helping to raise awareness and encourage local communities to take preventative action.

What is your project?

One of our main objectives is to develop and provide practical resources to raise awareness of bowel cancer. We felt that interactive maps would help local communities get a better understanding of bowel cancer if we provided specific information for their community, making it as relevant as possible. The process began in 2010 with launch of bowel cancer deaths (mortality statistics) and has evolved to include a range of data including screening rates and risk factors at a local government area (LGA).

Bowel Cancer Atlas

How did you come across InstantAtlas?

We saw the software being used successfully by other organisations and realised it would help us better engage with local communities. In addition to community level data, the way is which the data is presented and able to be compared made it very appealing. There was no similar resource available for bowel cancer in Australia, that bought all the bowel cancer elements together into one resource.

How did you get started?

The biggest challenge we faced was accessing the data. Five years on the challenge remains, partly due to the different layers of Government and getting data released into the public domain in a timely manner. There is so much data captured and the Atlas is a great vehicle for making these numbers meaningful to communities across the country.

Having initially used mortality data in 2012 we started to bring in other risk factors for bowel cancer such as smoking, alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, obesity and type 2 diabetes to provide a more complete picture. The new information is also available at a LGA level in each state and territory, providing local communities with a snapshot of their health.

Bowel Cancer Homepage

What sort of feedback have you had on the interactive maps?

The approach we have taken is to use the maps to highlight the varying levels of bowel cancer risk across Australian communities. We then encourage behavioural change in areas of high risk of bowel cancer and congratulate those communities who are taking appropriate action. We've used the data and the maps to show the best five and worst five areas for risk of bowel cancer.

Suburban and regional media has been very good at getting behind the maps and encouraging local debate and community action. In the future we'll look at combining the Atlas data with a community roadshow where we take our 'super colon' on tour. The super colon is a large, inflatable bowel which helps people understand more about the disease and helps to generate discussion.

How are you going to develop the interactive maps?

We have just released a bowel cancer app and would like to incorporate the Atlas data for people using mobile devices

We would also like to incorporate a Google Maps element and use this to show the location of GP surgeries and pharmacies that are participating in screening programmes, such as BowelScreen Australia®, which are accessible to Australians of all ages. We're keen to use the Atlas as a vehicle to provide people with practical information - to help boost screening rates and reduce bowel cancer risk.

Ideally we'd also like more detail regarding the data - survival rates, stage of cancer at diagnosis, and recurrence after treatment.

What are the benefits of using this mapping software?

  • InstantAtlas is helping Bowel Cancer Australia to present data that would otherwise be buried in data spreadsheets.
  • The way data is presented means that it is easy-to-understand and can be communicated to a wide range of individuals.
  • The maps are helping to raise awareness amongst communities where risk factors are highest.
  • Combined with other initiatives, such as the roadshow, the maps are a powerful addition to our awareness raising and are helping to increase screening rates.
Bowel Cancer Australia's maps were developed using InstantAtlas Desktop

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