Bowel Cancer: What you need to know

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Taking a proactive approach to your health is particularly important when it comes to bowel cancer. Although bowel cancer has the title of ‘Australia’s second deadliest cancer’, it’s also one of the most treatable if found early.

Bowel cancer affects men and women of all ages. This year alone, 5,255 Australians will be affected by bowel cancer, so it’s important to be on the front foot.

Are you at an increased risk of bowel cancer? Here are some important factors to consider:

 

Non-modifiable risks (those which you cannot change)

  • Age: Bowel cancer risk increases with age for both men and women. While your risk is higher if you are above 50, it’s important to note that 10% of bowel cancer patients are under 50. 
  • Family history: In 30% of bowel cancer cases, there is a family history or genetic contribution (such as Familial Polyposis Coli). 
  • Previous medical history: Other cancers, diseases or a history of polyps in the colon can increase your bowel cancer risk.

 

Modifiable risks (those you can change)

  • Alcohol: Do you consume two or more alcoholic drinks per day? It’s time to cut back. Look to see whether some of your favourite alcoholic drinks are available in an alcohol-free version. Demand for these products has grown significantly over the past few years. 
  • Body Fat: If you are overweight or obese, you are more likely to develop bowel cancer (and virtually every other cancer). Losing weight and keeping it off isn’t easy. It requires a caring, sensitive approach.
  • Dairy consumption: Dairy products and calcium supplements can decrease your risk.
  • Physical activity: Getting active can reduce colon cancer by 16%. Try to be active for at least 30 minutes each day.
  • Smoking: A two-pack-a-day smoker increases their risk of bowel cancer by around 40%. 
  • Red and processed meat: Do you eat a lot of red meat / processed meat (e.g., bacon, ham, salami and sausages)? Limit your intake to three serves per week. 

 

Bowel cancer screening and detection. How is it done?

It’s essential to report any warning symptoms straight away. These symptoms include:

  • Bleeding from the anus / back passage
  • Lumps, or sensation of lumps, around the anus
  • Change of bowel habit – constipation or diarrhoea
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Abdominal pain.

Should you be experiencing bowel cancer symptoms, it is likely that your GP will examine you, organise blood tests and scans, and possibly refer you for a colonoscopy or specialist opinion.

 

National Bowel Cancer Screening Program

Australians are fortunate to have access to the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. If you are between 50 and 74 years of age, you will be invited to take part in this Medicare-funded screening process. If you haven’t received your home testing kit, make sure your details are up to date and request your kit here.

To discover the full list of risks and how to modify them, visit bowelcanceraustralia.org. If you’re concerned about your risk of developing bowel cancer, please get in touch with your GP. Azure Medical doctors are experienced in men’s health and will provide you with valuable information, testing and when required, treatment plans.

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