‘Early detection saves lives’ – Act today to prevent bowel cancer

This month is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, an important campaign to raise awareness about Australia’s second deadliest cancer. While many people die from bowel cancer, it is one of the most treatable types of cancers if detected early. To delve deeper into the significance of Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, we spoke to our Director of Oncology, Dr Zee Wan Wong.

“Early detection saves lives. The cure rates for early bowel cancer diagnoses exceed 90%,” she said. Early-stage bowel cancers are limited in the extent of involvement, making them much more treatable than when detected at a later stage. “Generally, curative surgery is all that is required.”

The current recommendation is for everyone aged 50 and older to regularly test for bowel cancer. If you are aged 50-74, the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program will send you a free bowel screening test in the mail every two years. “However, if there is a strong family history of bowel cancer, inflammatory bowel disease or any concerning risk factors, please discuss with your GP for further advice” Zee Wan said.

Regarding factors that increase the risk of bowel cancer, Zee Wan said “there are hereditary syndromes associated with bowel cancer risks. Inflammatory bowel diseases, prior radiotherapy to abdomen, and other conditions, such as cystic fibrosis, are associated with a higher risk of bowel cancer.” Other risk factors include age, cultural heritage, obesity, diabetes, along with excessive smoking, drinking of alcohol, or consumption of red and processed meat.

“On the contrary, physical activity and a balanced diet high in fibre are protective,” said Zee Wan.

Physical activity is also important to help treat bowel cancer, as people who are more physically active before a bowel cancer diagnosis are less likely to die from the disease than those who are less active.

“Obesity is a risk factor for bowel cancer and is also associated with other medical conditions that may affect the outcome in someone diagnosed with bowel cancer” she said.

The key message is to regularly test for bowel cancer so that it can be detected early.

“During the pandemic, many of us have not been paying much attention to symptoms, such as changes in bowel habits or bleeding, abdominal discomfort or bloating, fatigue, loss of weight or appetite, as well as cancer screening,” Zee Wan said. 

“In addition, the Victorian Cancer Registry has reported a decline in the rates of cancer diagnosis over the last two years.”

“Please seek medical attention promptly if you have, or anyone you know has, concerning symptoms, to avoid a delayed diagnosis which may be associated with a more complex clinical course and poorer outcome,” Zee Wan said.

We’re currently raising funds for our oncology service, so that cancer patients can get the best care they need, closer to home. 

Take a Break for Cancer this winter to support those living with cancer on the Mornington Peninsula and cancer services at Frankston and Rosebud Hospital.

Visit Take a Break for Cancer to donate or take a part