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June is Bowel Cancer Month

Bowel cancer also known as Co-rectal cancer is diagnosed in 12,500 Australians each year.
It is more common in persons over the age over 50 years, but it can occur in all ages. It is a serious disease, but because of early screening techniques and its early warning signs with the development of polyps, it means if diagnosed early, it is often curable.
The bowel includes the large intestine, the colon and the rectum. It is the body organ with the important functions of absorbing water, breaking down complex food substances and elimination of waste products. Like all organs in the body it need proper nutrition, including healthy food and the right fibre content. Poor bowel health can help the promotion of bowel polyps. The polyps are generally very slow growing and can become cancerous.

The early screening for bowel cancer includes the FOBT (Faecal Occult Blood Test).  One of the early signs of cancer in the bowel polyps is a small leakage of faecal blood. It is the presence of this blood in the faeces that is a warning sign for bowel cancer.
The causes of bowel cancer are not fully understood but the known risk factors include:

  • Being older than 50 years
  • Inheriting some genetic disorders.
  • Having a family history of bowel cancer.
  • Long term inflammatory bowel lining (ulcerative colitis)
  • A diet high in Red meat, drinking too much alcohol and smoking.
  • Being overweight and nutritionally deficient.

If you are in these high risk categories it is worth having regular bowel screening and General Physician checkups.  The Australian government currently have a sponsored test kits that are available to persons on their 50, 55, 60, 65, 70 & 74 birthdays. The Rotary also help with the sales of subsidized bowel test kits every May.
The main symptoms of Bowel cancer are:

  • The presence of blood or mucus in the faeces.
  • A sudden change of bowel habits with no obvious reason
  • Constant tiredness
  • Weakness and paleness (possible due to iron loss)
  • General abdominal discomfort.

These symptoms are not specific to bowel cancer but should at least be discussed with your General Physician. More advanced tests are needed for diagnosis including examination and specific blood tests. The main treatment for Bowel Cancer is surgery.
To reduce risks of Bowel Cancer:

  • Have regular screening
  • Eat a healthy diet of fruit and vegetables. Crucifers seem to have a protective effect. (Lettuce, Cabbage, Broccoli, Brussel  Sprouts and Cauliflower)
  • Moderate the use of red meat, but include all food groups.
  • Avoid processed foods
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Moderate alcohol intake and stop smoking.

These lifestyle factors not only reduce the risks from bowel cancer but help prevent many lifestyle diseases.