|Australia has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world with around 17,000 Australians being diagnosed each year.|
The risk of developing bowel cancer rises sharply from age 50, but Australians under the age of 50 being diagnosed with bowel cancer has been increasing steadily. Therefore, knowing the symptoms of bowel cancer and having them investigated if they persist for more than two weeks is vital.
During the early stages, people may not have symptom and so regular screening is important. Any of the below symptoms could be an indication of colon or rectal cancer and should be reported to your GP if they persist for more than two weeks.
Symptoms of colorectal cancer include:
- Abdominal pain or swelling
- Unexplained anaemia causing tiredness, weakness, or weight loss
- Pain or a lump in the anus or rectum
- A recent persistent change in bowel habit
- A change in the shape or appearance of your poo
- Bleeding when going to the toilet.
Bowel cancer risk is increased by;
- eating an excessive amount of red meat,
- eating processed meats,
- drinking alcohol and
- being overweight.
However, you can help reduce your bowel cancer by implementing diet and lifestyle changes as well as screening and surveillance. Beneficial changes include:
- quitting smoking,
- limiting alcohol consumption and
- eating foods containing dietary fibre.
Maintaining a healthy weight and engaging in regular exercise has also been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer.
Regarding screening, Bowel Cancer Australia recommends participating in screening appropriate to your personal level of risk.
For people at average or near average risk of bowel cancer, Australian guidelines recommend screening using a faecal immunochemical test (FIT) every 2 years between the ages of 50 – 74. If you are aged between 50 – 74 you are eligible to receive a free FIT test in the mail. You can read more about if you are eligible for a free test and how you will receive this here.
People with a family history of bowel cancer may need extra testing to find bowel cancer early. If you have a family history of bowel cancer or an inherited gene mutation, you should make an appointment with a GP to talk about your own risk.