Understanding Bowel Cancer
June is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, a time where Australians are encouraged to find out more about Bowel Cancer and support the vital work of Bowel Cancer Australia.
Home of sunshine, beaches and a world famous Opera House, Australia is also the place with one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world.
WHAT IS BOWEL CANCER?
Bowel cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women in Australia and is more common in people over the age of 50, but it can occur at any age.
Bowel cancer can be also known as colorectal, colon or rectal cancer, depending on where the cancer begins. It develops from the inner lining of the bowel and can affect any part of the large bowel (colon) or rectum.
Anal cancer is different from and less common than bowel cancer.
Bowel cancer is preventable, treatable and beatable if detected early
Bowel polyps are usually harmless but can become cancerous (malignant). If these malignant polyps are left undetected they can develop into acancerous malignant tumour. If the bowel cancer tumour is left to advance, undetected and untreated, it can metastasise (spread) beyond its bowel location to other organs in the body.
15,253 Australians are told they have bowel cancer each year, including 2,186 people under the age of 55
WHO GETS BOWEL CANCER?
"About 3,000 people in Queensland are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year. About one in 10 men and one in 14 women will develop bowel cancer before the age of 85."1
"Bowel cancer affects men and women, young and old. It is one of the top five causes of premature death among Australians aged 45-74 and is the seventh leading cause of death among those aged 25-44. 1 in 13 Australians will develop the disease in their lifetime."2
Knowing your family health history is important for each of our lives in general, but when it comes to bowel cancer around 30% of people who develop bowel cancer have either a hereditary component, family history of this cancer, or a combination of both.
From age 50 the risk of developing bowel cancer sharply increases, however it is worth noting that the number of Australians under the age of 50 diagnosed with bowel cancer has been steadily increasing.
Almost 90% of bowel cancer cases can be treated successfully when detected early.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF BOWEL CANCER?
During the early stages, cases can begin as non-cancerous polyps and often have no symptoms which is why screening is so important.
Depending on the size and location of the cancer, signs and symptoms can vary.
Some commonly experienced symptoms below could be indicative of bowel or rectal cancer and should be investigated by your GP if they persist for more than two weeks:
changes in bowel habits and movements; diarrhoea, constipation, narrow stools, or the feeling of incomplete emptying
passing excessive amounts of gas
blood in the stool or on the toilet paper
abdominal pain or discomfort, bloating or cramping
anal or rectal pain
a lump in the anus or rectum
anaemia, fatigue or weakness
According to the Bowel Cancer Australia, "cancers occurring in the left side of the colon generally cause constipation alternating with diarrhoea, abdominal pain and obstructive symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting.
Right-sided colon lesions produce vague, abdominal aching, unlike the colicky pain seen with obstructive left-sided lesions."
Bowel cancer risk rises sharply and progressively from age 50.
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF BOWEL CANCER?
Some factors that increase your risk of bowel cancer include:
inherited genetic risk and family history
inflammatory bowel disease
high red meat consumption, especially processed meats
being overweight or obese
high alcohol consumption
HOW CAN I REDUCE MY BOWEL CANCER RISK?
Advice to help reduce your risk of bowel cancer includes:
maintaining healthy diet and lifestyle choices
regular screening and surveillance
abstaining from or limiting alcohol consumption
Eat foods containing dietary fibre
maintaining a healthy weight
Engage in regular physical activity
SCREENING FOR BOWEL CANCER
Bowel cancer screening is recommended for all Australians aged 50 to 74 who are low-risk, have no family history, no symptoms of bowel cancer, or an inherited gene mutation.
The bowel cancer screening kit provides a non-invasive test that can be done at home and is safe and easy to complete. The faecal immunochemical test (FIT) screens for blood in the faeces and is able to detect blood, otherwise invisible to the naked eye.
The test involves placing small samples of toilet water or stool on a special card provided in the screening kit. Samples are then mailed to a pathology laboratory via the postage-paid envelope provided in the kit.
Following analysis, the results are sent to the individual and their GP.
WHO HAS ACCESS TO THE SCREENING KITS?
Currently, the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program is offered free to people turning 50, 54, 55, 58, 60, 64, 68, 70, 72 or 74 years of age.
By 2020, Australia will have a tax-payer funded National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) whereby all Australians aged 50 to 74 will be offered the tax-payer funded screening test free in the mail every two years.
You can also get private Bowel Cancer Screening Kits from Hawthorne Clinic, please speak to your GP for information.
For further information visit cancerscreening.gov.au.
If you're concerned about any of the points discussed in this article relating to your health or someone you know, please contact your GP for further advice, investigation and assistance.