Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in Australia. Australia also has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world.
Around 1 in 23 Australians will develop bowel cancer during their lifetime and an estimated 16,000 people will be diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2017. Over 4,000 people are likely to die from the disease this year.
That said, bowel cancer is one of the most preventable cancers and the survival rate is improving.
The importance of clinical trials
Clinical trials, along with improved screening, have contributed to a lift in the 5-year survival rate from 48%, in the late 1980’s, to 68.7% during the 2009-2013 period.
We are currently running a number of Bowel cancer clinical trials – including the ASCOLT Trial, which is currently seeking patient participation. You can read more about our Bowel cancer trials HERE.
In addition, funds raised by the GI Cancer Institute were recently awarded to an Innovation Fund trial here in Australia, which will determine what the best initial treatment is for those who are diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer, but who cannot withstand the expected side effects of the commonly used combination chemotherapy regimens. You can read more about this HERE.
The importance of early detection
Early detection significantly improves the chance of successful treatment and long term survival. Screening is unobtrusive and easy to self-administer – with testing kits available from your GP or local pharmacy.
Everyone is at risk of developing bowel cancer, however risk increases with age – particularly if you are over 50 years old. The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, using Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT), is offered free to people turning 50, 55, 60, 64, 65, 70, 72 or 74 years of age, with test kits sent by mail. From 2020, all Australians aged 50 to 74 will be offered the test free every two years.
Not all bowel cancers show symptoms and experiencing symptoms does not necessarily mean you have bowel cancer. However you should see your doctor if you notice:
- bleeding from the back passage or any sign of blood after a bowel motion
- a change in usual bowel habit, such as straining (constipation) to go to the toilet or loose motions (diarrhea)
- abdominal pain or bloating
- weight loss for no obvious reason, or loss of appetite
- symptoms of anaemia – including unexplained tiredness, weakness or breathlessness
Bowel cancer is one of the most preventable cancers. Your most effective protection is to:
- do an FOBT screening test every two years from age 50
- get 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per day
- maintain a healthy body weight
- eat a well balanced diet
- avoid processed and burnt meat
- limit red meat intake to three to four times per week
- limit alcohol & quit smoking.
If you are experiencing any symptoms, OR are aged over 50, OR are concerned about your risk please consider screening and see your doctor.