About Bowel Cancer

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Australia has one of the highest incidences of bowel cancer in the world. Sadly, around 80 Australians die each week from the disease.


Cause

Bowel cancer is a malignant growth that can develop inside the large bowel (also referred to as the large intestine or colon) from 'polyps'. Polyps are small abnormal growths that develop on the lining of the bowel. They can be either flat or mushroom shaped.

National Cancer Institute image showing two colon polyps

image courtesy of National Cancer Institute

The likelihood of having polyps increases with age. Not all polyps become cancerous but may do if left untreated. Removing polyps reduces your risk of developing bowel cancer.


Detection

Bowel cancer can develop with few, if any, warning signs.  Early detection through screening can save lives. Bowel cancer can be successfully treated if detected in its early stages.

Bowel screening can identify pre-cancerous growths that can be removed before they progress to bowel cancer. Early detection through screening has the potential to prevent as many as 2000 deaths every year, but currently less than 40% of bowel cancers are detected early.

The Australian Government's National Bowel Cancer Screening Program offers free bowel screening to men and women aged 50 to 74 years.


Prevention

With regular screening, bowel cancer can be detected early or even prevented by removing pre-cancerous growths (polyps).

Early bowel cancer, or pre-cancerous changes, do not have any symptoms but may cause tiny amounts of blood to be in your bowel motion (poo) from time to time. This blood cannot be seen, but can be detected with a bowel screening test known as a 'Faecal Occult Blood Test'.

Although the risk of developing bowel cancer cannot be eliminated, the danger can be significantly reduced by:

  • maintaining a healthy body weight
  • eating a varied diet high in fibre and low in fat
  • doing regular physical activity of around 30 minutes per day
  • limiting daily alcohol intake
  • not smoking, and
  • participating in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program