How much do you know about Colorectal Cancer?

Colorectal cancer, also known as bowel cancer, occurs when malignant cancer cells grow in the wall of the large bowel. The cancer starts in the colon or the rectum, and can also be called ‘colon cancer’ or ‘rectal cancer’, depending on where it starts. Because these cancers often share many of the same features, colon cancer and rectal cancer are often grouped together.


About These Organs

After we have consumed food, it passes through the GI tract and mixes with digestive juices, causing large molecules of food to break down into smaller molecules. The colon plays a very important role in how our bodies use the food we eat. Before what you consume is moved to the colon, it is broken down with the assistance of the stomach, then pancreas, liver and gallbladder. Then water is absorbed in the colon and the remaining materials are broken down. The leftover material is moved into the rectum, where the muscles in the rectum move the waste out of the body.

What is Colorectal Cancer?

Colorectal cancer occurs when the cells of the large bowel lining begin to grow uncontrollably and turn into a cell clump called a polyp or an adenoma. Most polyps are benign and are not malignant or cancerous. However, when polyps are left undetected, they can become cancerous.

Bowel Cancer Screening

Early diagnosis of colorectal cancer is possible through a screening test – which is free for adults aged 50-74 and is run through the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. Screening is particularly important for colorectal cancer as it often develops without early warning signs. Research has shown bowel cancer screening can reduce bowel cancer deaths by 15 to 25%.

GI Cancer Institute Trials

In colorectal cancer, we currently have four trials opening this year, and five currently open to patient enrolment. Our 2021 Innovation Grant projects are also both looking into new ways of diagnosing, assessing and predicting colorectal cancer. To find out more about colorectal cancer and our trials, visit


Prognosis or Expected Outcomes

Colorectal cancer is the fourth most diagnosed type of cancer in Australia, and chances of a diagnosis increase with age. Sadly, colorectal cancer is also the second leading cause of cancer related deaths. People diagnosed with colorectal cancer have a 70.3% chance of surviving longer than five years. But the good news is, colorectal cancer is one of the most curable types of cancer and responds well to treatment, if detected early.

Signs and Symptoms:

• Blood in stool or on the toilet paper
• Change in bowel habits and consistency of bowel movements
• Feeling of bloating
• Unexplained weight loss
• Unexplained weakness or fatigue
• Rectal or anal pain
• A lump in the abdomen
• Pain, cramps or swelling in the abdomen
• Iron deficiency anaemia

Risk Factors and Prevention:
• Older age (50 years and over)
• Diet high in fat and red meat (especially processed meat, such as salami)
• Heavy drinking of alcohol
• Family history of bowel cancer or polyps
• Inherited genetic conditions including familial Adenomatous Polyposis and Lynch Syndrome
• Pre-existing inflammatory bowel disease such ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
• Past medical history of polyps in the bowel