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Are you at risk? Signs and symptoms of bowel cancer

Bowel cancer is a concerning prospect for any person, and is one of the leading types of cancer across the world. One in 12 people will develop bowel cancer during their lifetime in Australia. It’s exceptionally important to familiarise yourself with the associated signs and symptoms; however it’s important to remember that Bowel Cancer can develop with very few, if any, early warning signs. 

Risks of bowel cancer however can be reduced with healthy lifestyle including healthy diet and exercise. Bowel Cancer also can be prevented with appropriate screening and cured with timely treatment. Colonoscopy offers the best chance of early detection and cure.

the diagnosis colon cancer written on a clipboard

Common myth: bowel cancer only affects older people. This is not True! If you are concerned that you may have symptoms of bowel cancer - consult your Doctor. Bowel cancer affects people of all ages but is more common over the age of 50.

To help with raising awareness, we’ve put together some of the common signs and symptoms related to Bowel Cancer, which, if encountered, should be investigated immediately at your nearest clinic.

  • Change in appearance and bowel habit – this can include smaller stools than normal, or stools containing mucus.
  • Abdominal pain, cramps
  • Blood in the stool, rectal bleeding – rectal bleeding, or bright red and very dark blood in stool should absolutely be checked out as soon as possible.
  • Incomplete bowel movement – feeling as though you still “need to go” after the bowel movement
  • Unexplained anaemia – anaemia is a low red blood count and results in tiredness, weakness
  • Unexplained weight loss.

There’s no denying some of us find the topic of bowel movements uncomfortable, and it’s because of this many patients are totally unaware they have symptoms. That’s not to say that the above symptoms mean you definitely have bowel cancer, there are a number of other conditions that may present with similar symptoms. Regardless, these symptoms should always be brought to the attention of your Doctor so you can rule out anything nasty.

Fortunately, there are many lifestyle choices we can make which will help keep us reduce risks of developing cancer and other diseases, and, as we know, knowledge is power. The internet is loaded with information related to bowel cancer symptoms, bowel cancer testing, bowel cancer prevention and healthy lifestyle advice. Don’t be shy; reading about it could save your life!. Other names for Bowel Cancer are Colon Cancer and Colorectal Cancer. 

Sadly, many people write off their symptoms as something not significant, or nothing more than ‘constipation’ or ‘haemorrhoids’. When this happens, these tumours(cancers) are given the opportunity to grow and spread and therefore become inoperable. Where tumours are found, immediate treatment is usually required. Although Bowel Cancer is a curable disease, if left long enough advanced stages are beyond recovery and cure.

Who is most commonly at risk?

polyp removal

If you:

  • Are 50 years or over
  • Have a significant family history of bowel cancer or polyps
  • Have suffered from an inflammatory bowel disease
  • Or have previously had special types of polyps, known as adenomas, in the bowel

You are at a higher risk. Speaking to your GP about screening and prevention is recommended.

Bowel Cancer Prevention

It’s a long-standing truth – “prevention is better than a cure”. So we’ve listed some healthy habits to incorporate into your everyday life to help with preventing Bowel Cancer. Although no cancer is entirely preventable, it’s been estimated that making changes to your diet and physical activity can reduce the incidence of bowel cancer by up to 75%!

healthy breakfast

  • Diet – there is sufficient and convincing evidence that foods containing dietary fibre, and that consumption of vegetables and fruits that contain antioxidants may offer some protection against developing bowel cancer.
  • Exercise – convincing evidence shows that higher levels of physical activity protect against colon (not rectal) cancer. It’s recommended to start with a minimum of 30 minutes exercise where the heart rate is elevated, increasing to 60 minutes every day. Limiting habits which involve being seated for long periods, e.g. watching television, is also a great way to minimize contributing factors.

Eating red meat and particularly processed meat may increase the chances of developing bowel cancer.

Sadly, some 80 Australians die each week from bowel cancer, which makes bowel cancer the second most common cause of cancer death in Australia. Perhaps even more alarming than these numbers is the lack of information these patients have regarding their symptoms. 

If you know anyone at risk or displaying symptoms, encourage them to ask for a Doctor’s referral; Colonoscopy is presently the leading method of detecting and removing bowel polyps, which are precursors of bowel cancer. For further information, speak to the friendly staff at your local clinic, or ask your GP for guidance.

prevention is better

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