Bowel cancer (also known as colorectal cancer) is cancer in any part of the colon or rectum. It is the second most common cause of deaths in Australia with over 15,000 people diagnosed each year. It affects both men and women and causes more deaths than breast cancer or prostate cancer.
Bowel cancer is 90% curable if detected early (Stage 1). However, if it is not detected it will continue to grow and spread to other organs where it will be harder to treat.
What to look out for?
It is important to recognise these possible bowel cancer signs and symptoms and have them investigated if they persist for more than two weeks:
- A persistent change in bowel habit, especially going more often or looser, more diarrhoea-like motions for several weeks or constipation for no obvious reason
- A change in appearance of bowel movements e.g. narrower stools, or mucus in stools
- Rectal bleeding (blood or mucus in the stools)
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
- Frequent gas pains, cramps, or feeling of fullness or bloating in the bowel or rectum
- Unexplained anemia, causing weakness or weight loss
- A lump or mass in the stomach
- A feeling that the bowel has not emptied completely after a bowel movement
In early stages, bowel cancer may not present with any symptoms. This means that a person may have polyps or bowel cancer and may not know it. Not everyone who experiences these symptoms has bowel cancer; it may be due to other conditions such as hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome, anal fissures or inflammatory bowel disease. However, don't be embarrassed and don't delay in talking to the doctor. It is better to be reassured or treated early than to hope the symptoms will improve without treatment.
Reducing the risk of bowel cancer
Some risk factors such as age or genetic pre-disposition to bowel cancer cannot be modified but they can be monitored.You can help reduce your risk of bowel cancer by modifying your diet and lifestyle:
- Regular screening
- Eating a healthy diet- low in fat and high-fibre foods including vegetables, fruits, whole grain cereals, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes.
- Eating moderate amounts of lean red meat and avoid processed meats (e.g. deli meats)
- Be physically active - at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most days of the week
- Maintaining a healthy body weight
- Don't smoke
- Limit alcohol consumption - no more than 2 standard drinks a day
Screening for bowel cancer
Medical guidelines recommend screening every 1 to 2 years from the age of 50.
Screening with a simple faecal immunochemical test (FIT) is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of bowel cancer. Free screening via the National Bowel cancer Screening Program is currently available for people aged 50, 55, 60 and 65 only.
The BowelScreen Australia program uses the ColoVantage Home test kit. This is a take home kit that is simple to use and does not require any diet or medication changes.
See in store for more information about Bowel Cancer or to purchase one of our ColoVantage bowel screen test kits.
1. Bowel Cancer Australia, URL: https://www.bowelcanceraustralia.org/, accessed 31/05/16.