Bowel cancer is a commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia; however it is potentially one of the most preventable cancers through the early detection of abnormalities from screening.

What should you look out for? What are the symptoms of bowel cancer?

Bowel cancer is usually a slow-growing cancer. There are often no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. The most common symptoms of bowel cancer are:

  • Bleeding from the rectum (this may be noticed as blood in the stools)
  • Symptoms of anaemia
  • A change in bowel habit (loose stools or constipation)
  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Bloating
  • Weight loss
  • Unexplained tiredness or fatigue.

There are a number of conditions that may cause these symptoms, not just bowel cancer. If any of these symptoms are experienced, it is important they are discussed with your doctor.

Things you can do to reduce your risk

While some risk factors are outside of our control, evidence shows that around one third of cancers are potentially preventable.

Some lifestyle factors can affect a person’s risk of developing cancer. There are some simple steps you can take to reduce your risk of cancer which include quitting smoking, being sun smart, maintaining a healthy diet, getting active and limiting alcohol intake.

National Bowel Cancer Screening Program

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program  sends a free bowel cancer screening kit to Australians aged 50-74 every two years.

Bowel cancer screening saves lives. It is the best way of detecting bowel cancer early, because the disease often develops without symptoms.

Early diagnosis improves treatment options and chances of survival. Evidence shows regular screening can reduce deaths from bowel cancer by 15-25% and prevent between 300-500 deaths each year.

So when you receive your kit, it’s important that you complete and return it.

For more information on the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program visit

What are the risk factors for bowel cancer?

A risk factor that is associated with an increased chance of developing a particular health condition, such as bowel cancer. There are different types of risk factors, some of which can be modified and which cannot.

It should be noted that having one or more risk factors does not mean a person will develop bowel cancer. Many people have at least one risk factor but will never develop bowel cancer, while others with bowel cancer may have had no known risk factors. Even if a person with bowel cancer has a risk factor, it is usually hard to know how much that risk factor contributed to the development of their disease.

While the causes of bowel cancer are not fully understood, there are a number of factors associated with the risk of developing the disease. These factors include:

  • Increasing age
  • A personal history of bowel cancer or polyps
  • A family history of bowel cancer, adenoma or gynaecological cancer
  • A personal history of inflammatory bowel disease.

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