Health Bowel cancer facts, sleep health
DR GINNI MANSBERG and PROFESSOR DAVID CURROW share the risks, symptoms and prevention methods to help lower statistics
Bowel l cancer ia is Australia’s t li ’ second deadliest cancer, even though 90 per cent of cases are treatable if caught early enough.
“Right now, one in 28 women and one in 19 men in Australia will get bowel cancer before they turn 75,” says Sydney GP Dr Ginni Mansberg. “That’s a ridiculously high statistic.”
Who’s at risk?
While there’s a chance people under 50 may be diagnosed, 86 per cent of Australians over the age of 50 are told they have bowel cancer each year. But age isn’t the only risk factor.
“Anyone with a family history [of bowel cancer] is more at risk of developing bowel cancer,” adds Dr Mansberg. “It might be an inherited condition like Lynch syndrome or familial adenomatous polyposis, or simply family history.”
Lifestyle factors like smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, high red meat intake and lack of vegetables are also contributors.
What are the symptoms?
It’s important to note many bowel cancer symptoms – change in bowel habits, abdominal pain, unplanned weight loss, bloating, blood in the stool and pain or lumps inside the bottom – are also symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), haemorrhoids and Crohn’s disease.
While you shouldn’t jump to the worst case scenario, experts insist if you experience any of the above (or anything in our symptom checker) to visit your GP as soon as possible.
Most bowel cancers begin as a polyp – a benign, non-threatening growth on the lining of the bowel – and are found via a colonoscopy.
“Lots of polyps will never [turn into cancer], but you don’t know for sure simply by looking at them,” says Professor David Currow.
Prepare to prevent
It’s time to get to know your poo. “People’s poo varies day to day, week to week,” Professor Currow says. “But it’s about getting to know how your body works and it’s when it changes [its usual habits], that’s when you need to reach out to your GP.”
Look for any blood, from red to dark brown and even black. Also for any irregularities in the shape, consistency and frequency.
For those of us over 50, Professor Currow emphasises the importance of taking part in the government’s National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP), where they send you
a free test involving you collecting two small poo samples on your 50th birthday, then on your 54th and afterwards every second year until you turn 74.
“The NBCSP will find any cancer before symptoms and it’s that earlier warning g that that’s so crucial,” Professor Currow row tells us. Making lifestyle changes anges such as adopting a healthy, balanced diet and exercising for r 30 minutes a day, at least five days ys a week will also reduce risks. .
Timing is everything
We keep hearing that at bowel cancer is treatable, atable, but how early does s it need to be detected?
“It’s not the length of time the cancer’s been in your bowel that determines whether it’s early or late – it’s if it’s still contained within the bowel walls,” Professor Currow says. “When it’s still growing in the lining of the b bowel, that’s the earliest [doctors] can see it and those people have
a fantastic prognosis.”