Bowel cancer: what you need to know

Bowel cancer: what you need to knowAs bowel cancer awareness month draws to an end, it’s still not too late to take action against this disease, the second biggest cancer killer in Australia, after lung cancer.

Bowel cancer (also known as colon or colorectal cancer) is estimated to kill just over 4,000 Australians this year, with around 17,520 new cases being diagnosed this year alone. [i]


What is bowel cancer?

Bowel cancer is a malignant growth that develops most commonly in the lining of the colon (large bowel) or rectum. Most bowel cancers develop from tiny growths called polyps inside the colon or rectum. These polyps look like small spots on the bowel lining and are quite common. While not all polyps become cancerous, the risk of bowel cancer is reduced if polyps are removed.

Bowel cancer can develop with few, or any, warning symptoms. However, many early symptoms can include:

  • Changes in bowel habits including diarrhea, constipation or feeling you haven’t completely emptied your bowel
  • Thin bowel movements
  • Blood or mucus in the faeces
  • Abdominal bloating or cramping
  • Tiredness, weakness
  • Unexplained anaemia.

Unfortunately, many of these symptoms may not be present, particularly in the early stages of cancer. They may also be mistaken for symptoms of other illnesses or conditions, or may not even be noticed at all.

That’s why regular bowel screening is so important.


The importance of bowel screening

Bowel cancer is easy to detect and, if treated early, 93 per cent of all cases can be treated successfully.[ii]

Like any screening tool, bowel screening cannot prevent cancer. However, proper screening can save lives. It can detect cancer in its early stages when it is highly curable, as well as detecting growths, or polyps that could become pre-cancer.

Current guidelines recommend all Australians aged 50 to 74 undergo regular screening using a non-invasive test that looks for blood in the faeces. This faecal occult blood test (FOBT) can be done in the privacy of your own home.

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program currently provides the test free for people aged 50, 55, 60, 64, 65, 70, 72 and 74. More aged groups will be added in coming years and by 2020, the test will be available free (once every two years) to all Australians aged 50 to 74.

If there is a family history of bowel cancer, you should begin screening at 40 years of age. Speak to your doctor about the right screening tools for you.


What about colonoscopies?

A colonoscopy is the best test to diagnose bowel cancer as it allows the doctor to view the rectum and the entire colon. Air is pumped into the colon through a flexible tube that is inserted into the anus. A camera on the end of the tube allows your doctor to look for abnormal tissue that is removed for further examination. You are sedated during this procedure.

The doctor can perform a biopsy and remove polyps or other abnormal tissue during the test, if necessary. Colonoscopies may be given as a follow-up to abnormal FOBT results, or if there is a history of bowel cancer in the family.


Can you prevent bowel cancer?

It’s not possible to prevent all cases of bowel cancer, and there is no known cause of bowel cancer. However, there are some risk factors that increase your risk, which include:

  • Inherited genetic risk and family history
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • High consumption of red meat, particularly processed meats
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Consuming large amounts of alcohol
  • Smoking

The best way to reduce your risk is to not smoke, eat a healthy diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables and maintain a healthy weight.

Most of us don’t like discussing our bowels and their functions, but healthy bowels are important for our overall health. If you are concerned about your risk for bowel cancer, or want to know more about screening, make an appointment to speak to your doctor.

Further information

Bowel Cancer Australia

Cancer Council Australia


[i] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Bowel cancer (colorectal cancer),

[ii] Cancer Council Australia, Bowel Cancer,


Can you go a day without your favourite food, for charity?

Ausee top 8 challengeChances are, you or someone you know suffers from a food allergy. But imagine for a moment, being allergic to most foods.

For some Australians this is a reality. Those suffering from eosinophilic gastrointestinal disorders (EGID) have to live with severely limited diets, making their life difficult socially, emotionally and physically.

EGIDS occur when higher-than-normal amounts of eosinophils (pronounced ee-oh-sin-oh fills) are found in the gastrointestinal tract. These types of white blood cells can accumulate in the gut in response to allergens (food and/or airborne), and may cause inflammation and tissue damage.

Common side effects may include difficulty eating and swallowing, poor appetite, nausea or vomiting, reflux, abdominal or chest pain, sleeping difficulties, diarrhoea, pain in lower limbs, general illnesses (e.g. ear infections, croup, migraines, fevers and colds) and sometimes behavioural changes in children.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for EGID. Management involves removing the top 8 common allergenic foods:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Wheat
  • Fish
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Soy
  • Shellfish.

However, you can help make a difference to the lives of people with EGID.

This week is National EOS Week, run by the charitable organisation ausEE Inc. The aim is to raise awareness of eonsinophilic gastrointestinal disorders and to raise funds to help support those who suffer.

The week will culminate with Friday’s Top 8 Challenge, where Australians are encouraged to avoid all of the top 8 common allergenic foods for one meal or the whole day, and don8 to help the work of ausEE.

You can register to take the Top 8 Challenge at

So why not get creative in the kitchen this week and help your fellow Aussies who don’t get to enjoy the wide variety of foods that most of us do.


Further information:

National EOS Awareness Week 

Top 8 Challenge


Health checks that may save a woman’s life

female doctorLet’s face it, we all live busy lives. Sometimes a visit to your doctor for a check-up seems like more trouble than it’s worth, especially when you are juggling so many other things.

However, a regular check-up could just save your life.

Here are some of the most common screening tests that can make a difference to women’s health.

Breast screening

Early detection of breast cancer greatly increases the chances for successful treatment. Breast cancer can be detected by a clinical breast examination and mammography screening.

Women in Australia with no breast symptoms, aged between 50 and 69 are eligible to participate in BreastScreen Australia’s free breast cancer screening program. Every two years, women in this age group are recalled to have a screening mammogram. Women aged 40-49 are also welcome to attend, but they do not receive a two-yearly reminder.

Talk to your health practitioner about which method of screening is best for you.

Cervical screening

Regular Pap smears help protect against cervical cancer. This type of cancer is one of the most preventable of all cancers, as long as it’s detected early, so it’s important to have them, as unpleasant as they are. It is recommended that women over 18 who have ever had sex should have a Pap smear every two years. Regular cervical screening can prevent the most common form of cervical cancer in 90 per cent of cases.

Cholesterol and blood pressure

Did you know that heart disease is the number one killer for Australian women? Cholesterol and blood pressure levels are important risk factors for heart disease and stroke. If you are over the age of 40, you should have your cholesterol and blood pressure checked regularly. Talk to your general practitioner how often you need to be tested, but the general recommendation is once a year.

Bone density testing

Osteoporosis is characterised by a thinning of the bones causing them to fracture or break easily. While both men and women are at risk of developing the disease, women are more at risk after reaching menopause. This is because of lower levels of oestrogen. Bone density testing can identify osteoporosis.

Before heading off for a bone density test, your doctor will review any risk factors you may have for osteoporosis, and any other diseases or medications that may impact negatively upon the health of your bones.

Next time you visit your doctor, make sure you discuss your bone health.

Bowel screening (Colorectal cancer screening)

Bowel cancer is one of the most common cancers for Australians over 50 years of age. Around 80 Australians die of the disease each week. A faecal occult blood test (FOBT) detects tiny amounts of blood (often released from cancers or pre-cancers) in the stool.

Women with no family history of the disease should be screened every two years, after the age of 50. If there is a family history of bowel cancer, seek the advice of your general practitioner.

So don’t put off that check-up any longer. Invest the time in looking after your health. You are worth it.

Further information:

BreastScreen Australia Program

National Cervical Screening Program

Osteoporosis Australia

The Heart Foundation

National Bowel Cancer Screening Program