Bowel Cancer
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Bowel Cancer

The information below is courtesy of Bowel Cancer Australia. Visit the Bowel Cancer Australia website for more information.


What is Bowel Cancer?


Bowel cancer (also known as colorectal cancer) is cancer in the colon or rectum.

Bowel Cancer Statistics


  • Australia has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world; 1 in 13 Australians will develop the disease in their lifetime.
  • Bowel cancer is Australia’s second deadliest cancer.
  • Around 30% of people who develop bowel cancer have either a hereditary contribution, family history or a combination of both.
  • The risk of developing bowel cancer rises sharply and progressively from age 50, but the number of Australians under age 50 diagnosed with bowel cancer has been increasingly steadily.
  • Almost 90% of bowel cancer cases can be treated successfully when detected early.

Bowel Cancer Risk Factors


  • Diet and lifestyle – Bowel cancer risk is increased by smoking, eating red meat (especially when charred), eating processed meats (smoked, cured, salted or preserved), drinking alcohol, and being overweight or obese.


  • Age – The risk of bowel cancer rises sharply and progressively from the age of 50.


  • Personal Health History – People with certain diseases and illnesses seem to be more prone to developing bowel cancer. These include Type 2 diabetes, other forms of closely linked cancer such as ovarian or digestive system cancers, and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) including Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis.


  • Family History – Someone with several close relatives diagnosed with bowel cancer before age 55 has a much higher risk than someone with no close relatives with bowel cancer.


Bowel Cancer Symptoms


During the early stages of bowel cancer, patients may have no symptoms, which is why screening is so important.


Any of the below symptoms could be indicative of bowel or rectal cancer and should be investigated by your GP if they persist for more than two weeks.


  • Blood in the stool or rectal bleeding
  • A recent, persistent change in bowel habit, especially if severe (including diarrhoea, constipation or the feeling of incomplete emptying)
  • A change in the shape or appearance of bowel movements (e.g. more narrow than usual)
  • Abdominal pain or swelling
  • Pain or a lump in the anus or rectum
  • Unexplained anaemia
  • A feeling that the bowel has not emptied completely after a bowel movement


Bowel Cancer Prevention


Healthy diet and lifestyle choices, as well as screening and surveillance, can help to reduce your bowel cancer risk.


Evidence reveals quitting smoking, abstaining from or limiting alcohol consumption, and eating foods containing dietary fibre are all beneficial.


Maintaining a healthy weight and engaging in regular physical activity have also been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer, but not rectal cancer.


Additionally, people who are more physically active before a bowel cancer diagnosis are less likely to die from the disease than those who are less active.


Bowel Cancer Screening


Bowel cancer screening is safe and easy and can be done at home.


It is recommended that people aged 50 and over who do not have a family or personal history of bowel cancer, or an inherited gene mutation, should screen using a Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) every 1 to 2 years.


Screening involves placing small samples of toilet water or stool on a special card provided as part of a faecal immunochemical test (FIT).


The kit includes a postage paid envelope, in which the samples are mailed to a pathology laboratory.


Following analysis, the results are sent to the individual and their GP.


By 2020, Australia will have a tax-payer funded National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP), whereby people aged 50-74 will receive a tax-payer funded screening test in the mail every 2 years.


A positive result means blood has been detected in the samples. It does not necessarily mean bowel cancer is present but does require further investigation by a GP and a referral for colonoscopy within 30 days.


A negative result means blood has not been detected in the samples; however, it does not guarantee no cancer is present or that the person will never develop bowel cancer.