Our aim is to encourage seniors to live a happy and healthy and life with our wellness-focused approach to care. As June is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, we thought it was fitting to shine a light on the importance of regular check-ups and tests.
Did you know that in Australia bowel cancer (also known as colorectal cancer), is the second deadliest cancer? It claims the lives of 103 people a week!
However, it is also one of the most treatable cancers if detected early; almost 99% of early-detected cases can be treated successfully.
It is estimated that 1 in 15 Australians will develop bowel cancer in their lifetime. Whilst it can affect people of all ages it is more likely to affect those over the age of 50, and more particularly men. That’s why it is so important for regular testing to occur!
There are certain factors that may increase the risk of developing bowel cancer. Some of these cannot be altered, but it may be helpful for you and your doctor to be aware of them: Age, family history, hereditary conditions, and personal health history. Being diagnosed with certain diseases may make you more prone to bowel cancer as well, for example Type 2 Diabetes or Crohn’s.
Other factors that may increase your risk are considered changeable due to the nature of them. These are smoking, drinking alcohol, being overweight or obese, eating an excessive amount of red meat and/or processed meats.
How do you reduce your risk of developing bowel cancer?
There are a few ways that you can reduce your risk. You probably already have an idea of what you can do but it’s always good to be reminded. Eating healthier meals including dietary fibre rich foods (so the saying goes ‘An apple a day…’), performing regular physical activity, and of course quitting or drastically reducing your consumption of vices such as smoking and alcohol. Making these lifestyle changes are also more likely to reduce your risk of many other diseases, and you may feel more energised overall.
What are the symptoms to look out for?
There is an easy to remember acronym to check for symptoms that may be caused by bowel cancer – it is BOWEL:
- Blood in your poo
- Obvious change in your bowel habit
- Weight loss you can’t explain
- Extreme tiredness for no reason
- Lump or swelling in your abdomen
How to test for bowel cancer?
Bowel cancer screening is as simple as conducting a safe and easy test in your own home. Australian medical guidelines recommend screening using a faecal immunochemical test (FIT) every 2 years for those aged 50-74. A sample is collected and mailed to a pathology laboratory for analysis. The results are sent back to the individual and their GP. If there is a positive result further investigation is required and your GP will likely give a referral for a colonoscopy to be conducted.
It is recommended that those who have a family history of bowel cancer undergo extra testing to attempt to catch the disease as early as possible; this may mean having regular colonoscopies.
In Australia the government has fully implemented the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. This means a free screening test (FIT) is mailed to eligible people aged 50-74 every 2 years. These people are strongly encouraged to take the short amount of time to collect and mail the sample as these tests are fully paid for through the taxation system. It could save your or a loved one’s life as it is peace of mind, and any irregularities can be detected early.
For those who are not eligible to participate in this government initiative, talk with your GP or pharmacist about BowelScreen Australia, or order a screening test online or by calling Bowel Cancer Australia’s helpline on 1800 555 494.