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Bowel Cancer

What is Bowel Cancer?

Bowel cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in Australia. It refers to the development of a cancerous growth in the large bowel /colon ( which includes the rectum).

Bowel cancer develops from tiny polyps (growths) on the inside of the bowel surface. Over time if left untreated some of these polyps may grow in size until they develop into a cancer. Early detection of the polyps when they are small and removal at colonoscopy is the best way to prevent the development of cancer.

What are the symptoms of Bowel Cancer?

In general most people do not have symptoms with early stage cancers, of note, polyps do not cause any symptoms unless large. However as a cancer grows is may produce the following symptoms; change in bowel habit, rectal bleeding, abdominal pain and loss of weight. If your doctor performs a blood test this may show iron deficiency anaemia (low red bloods cells due to chronic blood loss).

What tests are available for Bowel Cancer screening?

Screening for bowel cancer is aimed to identify early cancers in patients who do not have symptoms. The earlier diagnosis leads to identifying more curable cancers.

However all patients with any symptoms outlined above should seek further advice from your doctor.

There are a number of tests available to screen for bowel cancer. These include a stool test (faecal occult blood test – FOBT) and colonoscopy.

The Australian Government introduced the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program in 2008. The eligibility criteria for this program are:

  • those turning 50 years of age between January 2008 and December 2010
  • those turning 55-65 years of age between July 2008 and December 2010

Screening may be recommended at an earlier age if the risk of colon cancer is higher. This can include people with a family history of bowel cancer or multiple polyps. Your doctor can provide you with more advice on your risk of bowel cancer, and the most appropriate age for screening.