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Health Facts

General Health


Toddlers & Children




Bowel Cancer - The Facts


The bad news

  • One Australian dies of bowel cancer every two hours.
  • That's compared to one road death every five hours and one death from breast cancer every four hours.
  • 10,000 Australians per annum are diagnosed with bowel cancer, of that 4,500 will die (nearly 50%).
  • According to national averages, 1 in 18 men and 1 in 27 women will develop bowel cancer. It is the most common internal cancer and the second most common in women (apart from skin cancer).
  • Bowel cancer accounts for 14% of cancer deaths in Australia.

The good news

  • If detected early enough bowel cancer is very treatable and even curable.
  • Bowel cancers begin as benign growths of the lining of the large bowel, called 'polyps'. Polyps can be detected in a number of ways including colonoscopy and barium X-ray of the bowel. Almost all polyps can be removed without an operation, during a colonoscopy. Once removed the polyp can no longer develop into a cancer.
  • Even if a bowel polyp becomes a cancer, patients still have a good chance of survival. In its early stages most bowel cancer can be cured by surgery (and most surgery does NOT involve a bag or colostomy).
  • Checkups with your GP are essential to avoiding bowel cancer. It is recommended you start having checkups at 50-55 years of age.

Are you at risk?

  • A family history of bowel cancer significantly increases the risk.
  • Age increases the risk (all people over 50 should be appropriately screened).
  • An unbalanced diet low in high-fibre foods including vegetables, legumes and grains increases the risk.

Warning symptoms

  • A change in the usual pattern of your bowels, such as the development of persistent constipation, diarrhoea or irregularity in someone whose bowels have previously been regular.
  • Blood in the stool.
  • Iron deficiency anaemia, where testing of the blood shows a low "haemoglobin" and depleted reserves of iron.
  • Abdominal pain.

Source: Bowel Cancer & Digestive Research Institute Australia www.gutdisorders.com