It’s a frightening statistic that one in 121 Australians will develop bowel cancer, the country’s second most common cancer. What makes it even more alarming is the fact that in its early stages, bowel cancer generally has no symptoms.
That’s why it’s vital for men and women over 50 to take part in the free National Bowel Cancer Screening Program.
It’s a simple test (sent to you at home) but it could save your life.
The Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) detects traces of blood in the faeces. If your test is positive your doctor will refer you to a specialist for a colonoscopy.
If you have a family history of bowel cancer and have concerns (regardless of your age), or have symptoms of bowel cancer (see below), your GP is likely to refer you directly to a specialist for a colonoscopy.
Performed while the patient is under sedation, a colonoscopy generally only requires a day procedure and is the best test for bowel cancer.
Moonee Valley Specialist Centre’s Dr Nathan Connelly is a specialist in performing colonoscopies. He explained that a colonoscopy allows medical specialists to look inside the bowel to determine the cause of the bleeding or other symptoms. If polyps (small growths in the lining of the bowel that can develop into cancer) or cancer are detected, they can generally be removed during the procedure.
Detected early, bowel cancer can be successfully treated in most cases. However, less than half of all bowel cancers are detected during the early stages.
Dr Connelly says this is why screening by a FOBT every two years or colonoscopy every five years once you turn 50 (or earlier if you have a family history of the disease) is so important.
‘Around one quarter of people with bowel cancer have a family history of the disease, so it’s important to tell your GP your family’s medical history so that you can be tested from an early age,’ he said. ‘While bowel cancer is more common after 50, it is also diagnosed in younger people.’
Around 15,000 Australians are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year – 1,000 of those are under 501.
Symptoms of bowel cancer include:
- a change in bowel habits, or signs of blood
- bloating or abdominal pain
- loss of appetite, or weight loss for no explained reason
- signs of anaemia (unexplained).
If you experience any of these symptoms make an appointment to see your GP as soon as possible.
Bowel cancer prevention
To help reduce the risk of developing bowel cancer:
- eat a healthy diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables and exercise regularly to maintain a healthy weight
- don’t smoke
- limit alcohol consumption
- regular screening (FOBT or colonoscopy).
Mrs Nicole Strabuck-Connelly
Director, Moonee Valley Specialist Centre
03 9372 0372