What is Bowel Cancer?
Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, claims the lives of over 80 people every week. Australia has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world and 1 in 13 Australians will develop the disease in their lifetime.
It develops when cells in the bowel lining grow too quickly, forming a clump known as a polyp or adenoma. While most polyps are usually benign, or non-cancerous, most bowel cancers form from these tiny growths, which can continue to grow for several years before changing and becoming cancerous. If left untreated, the cancer can spread to other areas of the body.
The good news, however, is that bowel cancer is one of the most treatable types of cancer. If detected early, up to 90% of bowel cancers can be treated successfully.
During the early stages of the disease, there can often be no signs or symptoms present. Because of this, the Australian Government introduced the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program in 2006, to help reduce illness and death from the disease through early detection.
During later stages of the disease, the following symptoms can be indicators of bowel cancer:
Bowel cancer affects both men and women.
The risk factors for bowel cancer can be broken down into two main categories – those that can be changed (modifiable) and those that can’t (non-modifiable).
Modifiable risk factors include:
Non-modifiable risk factors include:
- Being aged 50 and over.
- Having an existing inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
- Having previous non-cancerous tumours in the bowel.
- Having a strong family history of bowel cancer or polyps.
While these risk factors cannot be changed, it’s important to tell your GP if these risk factors apply to you and you have any concerns about developing the disease.
How can I reduce my risk of developing bowel cancer?
There are a number of ways to help reduce your risk of developing bowel cancer.
1. Take the test
Australia’s National Bowel Cancer Screening Program invites eligible people between 50-74 years of age to regularly screen for bowel cancer using a free, simple test at home.
The test is able to detect blood, difficult to detect with the naked eye, which is one possible symptom of bowel cancer. While a positive result means blood has been detected in the sample, it does not mean that bowel cancer is present. It does, however, require further investigation by your GP.
A negative result means no blood has been detected in the
samples, and no further action will be required. It’s
For those outside the age bracket for screenings through the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, a BowelScreen Australia screening test can be purchased from participating pharmacies or through Bowel Cancer Australia by contacting their Helpline on 1800 555 494.
2. Adopt a healthy diet and lifestyle
Remember the modifiable risk factors we mentioned earlier? These are the things that are in your control and can be changed. It includes doing such things as:
Knowing your risk factors and monitoring your own health are important tools in the early detection of bowel cancer. If you notice any symptoms or have concerns relating to bowel cancer, speak to your GP to discuss your concerns.
Appointments with GPs at Illawarra Medical Centre can be made by visiting our Online Bookings page or contacting us on (08) 9208 6400.
Where can I find out more information?
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