Facts and risks of bowel cancer explained

In Australia, bowel cancer is the second biggest cause of cancer deaths.  It will affect 1 in 14 people by the time they reach 85 and is more common in people aged 50 to 74.

The risk of developing bowel cancer is higher if you have a family history with the disease. If you have three close relatives who have had bowel cancer, then you are deemed to have a “high familial bowel cancer risk”. The more family members diagnosed, and the younger they were affected increases the likelihood that you will also develop bowel cancer.

“Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women in Australia and is more common in people over the age of 50.”
Source: www.cancer.org.au

Lynch syndrome

Lynch syndrome (also known as HNPCC) is a hereditary genetic mutation that increases a person’s chance of developing certain cancers – often at a younger age than the general population. Lynch Syndrome is responsible for around 3% of bowel cancers. Everyone diagnosed with bowel cancer should also have a Lynch Syndrome test. If you or a family member has tested positive for Lynch syndrome, predictive testing is recommended to other relatives on the affected side of the family. 

Learn more about Lynch Syndrome here 

Genetic conditions linked to bowel cancer 

Watch this video from Bowel Cancer UK to learn more about genetic conditions that can predispose you to bowel cancer.

Can you be screened for bowel cancer?

Yes, screenings are available for bowel cancer. Sadly, one of the biggest reasons people die from the disease is late detection and diagnosis. Half of all cases are not found early enough to be successfully treated.

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program offers free screening to all Australians at risk of bowel cancer. If you’re aged between 50 and 74 you can have a simple, free test that can be completed at home. The test can help detect early signs of bowel cancer before noticeable ones emerge.

Watch the video from Cancer Australia for more information on bowel cancer screening.


Bowel Cancer Symptoms 

Early signs of bowel cancer can be easy to miss, but they may include:

  • bleeding from the rectum, or blood in your stools (faeces or poo)
  • a recent, ongoing change in bowel habits — for example, looser stools, constipation, more frequent trips to the toilet, or stools that are narrower than usual
  • abdominal pain, cramping or bloating
  • unexplained weight loss
  • unexplained tiredness (which may also be due to anaemia)
  • If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor. In particular, bleeding from the rectum should never be ignored.

Source: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/bowel-cancer#symptoms

Bowel Cancer Diagnosis

If you have symptoms or returned a positive test through screening then the following tests can be used to determine if you have bowel cancer.

  • a physical examination
  • blood tests for anaemia
  • a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy to see inside your colon, rectum and anal canal
  • imaging scans of your bowel such as a barium enema (a colon x-ray), CT or MRI scan
  • a biopsy to take a sample of tissue from your bowel wall
  • a chest x-ray to see whether the cancer has spread to your lungs
  • a lymph node biopsy
  • an ultrasound

Check your cancer risk

Did you know that at least one-third of all cancers could be prevented? Us this free calculator from the Australian government to check your risk