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Preventing bowel cancer deaths is within our reach

Less than 50 per cent of cases of bowel cancer are diagnosed at an early stage when it can be most successfully treated, according to recent data from Cancer Australia.  

Each day in Australia, 46 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer, and 11 people will die from the disease.

Cancer Australia CEO Helen Zorbas said bowel cancer was one of the most preventable cancers and could be successfully treated if diagnosed early, yet 24 per cent of bowel cancers were diagnosed at stage three and 18 per cent were diagnosed at stage four in Australia.

“While the bowel cancer burden is significant, evidence shows nearly half of bowel cancers are potentially preventable through lifestyle changes,” Dr Zorbas said.

Modifiable risk factors for bowel cancer include being overweight, physical inactivity, a low intake of dietary fibre, a high intake of red or processed meat, high alcohol consumption and smoking.

In addition, the Australian Government’s National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) provides an important way in which Australians aged 50-74 can reduce their risk of the disease and improve their chance of early diagnosis.

“A recent analysis of the NBCSP from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows that bowel cancer screening is effective in reducing bowel cancer death rates, yet participation remains low at 41 per cent. I encourage those invited to participate to make it a priority,” Dr Zorbas said.

Dr Zorbas said it was also important to know the symptoms of bowel cancer so warning signs are recognised and medical advice is sought early.

Symptoms include a change in bowel habits, bleeding from the rectum, unexplained weight loss, tiredness or fatigue, abdominal pain, cramping or bloating.

For more about bowel cancer.

Check Your Cancer Risk provides tips and information to reduce your risk.

Cancer Australia’s National Cancer Control Indicators (NCCI) website: