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Bowel Cancer

22 May 2007 7:46 AM - The Weekender

Bowel or Colorectal Cancer is the 2nd most common cause of death due to cancer (after lung cancer). It will affect one in 22 Australians at some point during their lifetime. Risk factors include:

  • Being over the age of 50;
  • Having a family member with a history of bowel cancer.

The risk can be minimised by:

  • 30 minutes of physical ectivity each day, healthy diet which includes plenty of fibre, fruit, vegetables and low-fat diary and is low in saturated fats and alcohol;
  • Maintaining a healthy body weight;
  • Not smoking.

Bowel Cancer can usually be cured with surgery if detected early. Unfortunately more than half of cases are advanced at discovery, (and often incurable) because it often develops without any early warning symptoms. Possible signs include:

  • Blood and/or mucus on the faeces or toilet paper;
  • More than 2 weeks of altered bowel habit or abdominal discomfort or a feeling of incomplete emptying;
  • Unexpected tiredness and/or weight loss.

In order  to facilitate the detection of early bowel cancer a free notional screening program is currently being phased in. By 2009 it will hopefully encompass all people between the age of 55 and 74 years old. Known as the Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT), it uses a kit where in the privacy of your own home, a small sample of faeces is simply collected from the toliet bowl. This is then mailed back to the laboratory where it is tested for traces of blood that can not be seen with the naked eye. Those with a positive result are advised to see thier GP to arrange futher investigation (usually a colonoscopy) to find the cause. Most bowel cancers are slow growing and so doing a FOBT for age 50, every 1 - 2 years will significantly reduce the chances of dying from bowel cancer by catching and treating it early.

If you wish to have a FOBT, have any concerning bowel symptoms or a family history of bowel cancer then speak to your GP or you can get advice for the Cancer Helpline on 131120. Another useful resource to help in making a decision about taking part in FOBT screening can be found at: www.cancerscreeningdecision.org/index.cfm

Dr. Tim Bradshaw