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What You Need to Know About Bowel Cancer

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When you think about it, there are many advantages to ageing – you’re more confident, you have a good idea of who you are and you have a sense of accomplishment after a full working life.

You’re likely to have a voice in your community and fewer financial problems. You’ve earned a modicum of respect. If you have children and grandchildren you see yourself immortalised in them and know that when you die your genes will carry on. You’re over worrying about the problem of wrinkles and the paunch and you’ve probably paid off the mortgage. If you’re male and have any hair left it’s probably grey and you intend to join the silvermaned and toddle around the countryside in your favourite, if faded, old 1970s Pink Floyd T-shirt in your new mobile home.

But there are disadvantages associated with ageing: you are more at risk of the problem of bowel cancer after the age of 50 but it need not be a sign of the end. You can do something about it and the sooner you do, the better to help prevent bowel cancer.

And prevention is heaps better than cure for most problems.

  • In Australia bowel cancer tops the list when it comes to cancer deaths. Each year more Victorians die of bowel cancer than a combination of both prostate and breast cancer.
  • Australia has the second-highest incidence of bowel cancer in the world.
  • Each year around 17,000 Australians are diagnosed with bowel cancer and around 93% of these people are aged over 50.
  • Bowel cancer is one of Australia’s most common cancers. About 1 in 19 men and 1 in 28 women will develop bowel cancer before the age of 75.
  • Around 80 Australians die each week from bowel cancer making it the second most common cause of cancer-related death after lung cancer.

These are startling statistics, and while it sounds like a huge problem, it doesn’t have to be this way because you can do something about it.

It’s called early detection and it can prevent you from developing bowel cancer by removing precancerous polyps. You don’t have to die from bowel cancer, that’s the message. If it your problem is detected early, and you change your lifestyle and diet to remove some of the causes, almost 90 per cent of bowel cancers can be treated with a high rate of success.

Colonoscopy is the best diagnostic tool for detecting bowel cancer and removing polyps to prevent bowel cancer.

So, how can you prevent bowel cancer?

The Australian Government’s National Bowel Cancer Screening Program currently provides a free FOBT kit and pathology to all Australians aged 50, 55, 60, 64, 65, 70, 72 and 74. Cancer Council urges all eligible Australians to participate. 

  • When the bowel cancer test kit (FOBT) arrives in the post, DO IT. 

Why would anyone fail to do the test when it is absolutely free and all you need to do is take a sample, follow the instructions and post it back in the prepaid envelope. It could save your life, and prevent the problem of bowel cancer, after all. There’s no need for appointments with this test, and there’s no poking about in your nether regions either. If you’re aged between 50 and 74 the test kit is sent to you in the post so you can do it at home. No problem. However, only about 40 per cent of people in Victoria in that age group take up the offer of the free test, which can detect cancer well before any symptoms or problems arise. It’s a great way to prevent bowel cancer. And the fact is that 90 per cent of cases will be treated with success. So, if the test kit has arrived in the mail, DO IT. Or if you haven’t received it, find out if you’re eligible.

  • Eat healthy foods 

While there are people who brag that they never eat vegetables, and live on meat, their long-term health prospects are not at all good and they will no doubt have problems down the track. So, to help your body avoid the cause of bowel and other cancers and illnesses, and to help prevent them from developing, it’s time to increase your intake of fruit and vegetables. It’s also important that you lower the amount of red meat and also processed meats from the deli. Research studies worldwide conclude that red meat, and in particular, processed meats, can cause cancer or at least add to your risk of developing the problems associated with bowel cancer. The Cancer Council suggests cutting back to no more than three or four serves of meat per week, but definitely steer clear of processed meats such as frankfurters, sliced meats, ham and bacon to help your body to prevent cancers from forming. 

  • Ditch the cigarettes and start pedalling or walking 

Smoking causes cancer. Face it, it’s a problem so give up the cigarettes. Take up exercise. It’s one of the best ways of preventing or reducing the risk of cancer, and in particular, bowel cancer. The Cancer Council urges people to get active, have one hour of moderate activity every day. This can be in the form of a medium-paced swim, a ride on the bike (pushbike not motorbike) or any kind of exercise where you get to the stage of sweating it, or huffing and puffing. This, along with quitting the smokes, will help remove the known cause of the problem of bowel cancer and thereby aid in its prevention. These three simple measures can vastly decrease your risk of bowel and other cancers. With regard to quitting the cigarettes, this will not only decrease the risk of bowel cancer, and help prevent it, but some 15 other kinds of cancers. Get onto Quitline (13 7848) or go to their website at to help set you on the path to good health and cancer prevention.

  • Check out your poo and know what problems to look for

There’s really nothing yuk about it, getting to know your bowel habits can be a lifesaver and a way towards the prevention of bowel cancers and polyps. What you need to watch for are changes in bowel habits, such as constipation or diarrhoea, or the feeling that you haven’t finished emptying your bowels. If you see any thin stools or blood, feel stomach pain with cramps or bloating; rectal or anal pain, they can be symptoms. Other important symptoms include rectal or anal lumps, loss of weight; unexplained tiredness or anaemia. So if you have any of these problems or symptoms, talk to your GP. He or she might suggest a colonoscopy, which can detect bowel cancers and remove pre cancerous or suspicious polyps.

  • Ask your family if there is a history of bowel cancer

Talk to family members on both sides, mother and father, and ask if anyone in the family has ever had problems with bowel cancer or if they were diagnosed with polyps. If a parent or sibling has been diagnosed and treated for the problem of bowel cancer or polyps, your risk might be higher, especially if they were diagnosed prior to the age of 55. If there are two close relatives on the same side of your family, it increases your risk as well. If there is a family history of for instance, endometrial cancer, it might increase your risk of bowel cancer, and knowing your history is a prevention tool. Generally a colonoscopy would be required to rule out polyps or bowel cancer.

Direct Endoscopy centres are available in most areas. Call 9781 5959 for an appointment. For more information on bowel cancer you can go to

Remember, if you get a free bowel test kit in the mail, DO IT.

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