Australia has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world, and 70% of people who get bowel cancer have no family history of the disease and no hereditary predisposition.
The good news is that almost 99% of bowel cancer cases can be treated successfully when detected early. The risk of developing bowel cancer increases significantly by the age of 50, but the number of Australians under age 50 diagnosed with bowel cancer has been steadily increasing.
To help reduce the risk of bowel cancer, it’s important to use preventative health strategies to keep yourself healthy and well and to know the symptoms of bowel cancer and have them investigated if they persist for more than two weeks.
Common symptoms of bowel cancer cancer include:
- A recent, persistent change in bowel habit, such as looser, more diarrhoea-like poo, constipation, or going to the toilet more often, or trying to go, or irregularity in someone whose bowel habits have previously been regular.
- A change in shape or appearance of your poo. For example, narrower poos than usual or mucus in poo.
- Blood in your poo or rectal bleeding, Bright red or very dark blood should never be ignored.
- Frequent gas pain, cramps. A feeling of fullness or bloating in the bowel or rectum.
- Unexplained anaemia. A low red blood count causing tiredness, weakness or weight loss.
- A feeling that the bowel has not emptied completely after going to the toilet.
- Pain or a lump in the anus or rectum.
- Abdominal pain or swelling.
Things that you can do to lower your risk of bowel cancer include:
- Reduce alcohol, no more than 2x alcoholic drinks in one day and at least 3x alcohol free days in a row each week. See our healthy eating and drinking tips here.
- Avoid smoking.
- Maintaining a healthy weight range for your height, age and body mass index, see our weight management guidelines here.
- Reduce red meat intake to 3x portions per week, three portions is equivalent to about 350-500 grams cooked weight. When barbecuing, partly cook meat in the oven first to reduce cooking times on open flames or grills. Keep temperatures low and use marinades to protect meat from burning. Eat very little, if any, processed meat.
- Regular exercise helps to reduce the risk of all cancers see our exercise and activity essential recommendations here.
- Whole grains and foods containing dietary fibre decreases the risk of bowel cancer. Eating 3 servings (a total of 90 grams) of wholegrains a day, such as brown rice or wholemeal bread, can reduce the risk of bowel cancer by 17%. See our healthy food guidelines here.