Australia, 31/01/20 | Story | Medical Systems Take a Stand to Help Beat Bowel Cancer

Each week 103 Australians die from bowel cancer, that’s 5,375 people per year in Australia alone1. In fact, Australia has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world and it is currently Australia’s second deadliest cancer. It’s time to turn awareness into action, we can all do our bit to fight and help defeat bowel cancer.

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Dr Doug Samuel, Consultant Gastroenterologist, performing a colonoscopy screening examination

Unfortunately, bowel cancer cases are increasing – with 20,000 cases predicted for 20202. The good news is that 98 percent of bowel cancers can be successfully treated when detected early3 but sadly fewer than 50 percent of bowel cancer cases are detected early4. There’s clearly room for improvement – making it important to know the symptoms and to make sure you follow the guidelines for screening.

Screening could save your life

Dr Adrian Sartoretto, Consultant Gastroenterologist, stands near colonoscopy screening medical equipment

In its early stages, bowel cancer often has no symptoms but very small amounts of blood that are invisible to the naked eye can leak from cancerous growths and pass into bowel movements. The Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) is used as a bowel cancer screening test and can detect even microscopic amounts of blood in the faecal sample.

A positive test result means that blood has been detected in the sample. It does not necessarily mean that you have bowel cancer but indicates that further investigation is required, and that there may be an opportunity to prevent bowel cancer by removing its precursor- a polyp. A colonoscopy is often used to investigate a positive screening test or the underlying cause of any unusual symptoms. During a colonoscopy a thin, flexible tube is carefully fed through the large intestine to look for and potentially treat any abnormalities such as polyps or bowel cancer.

Medical guidelines recommend FIT test screening every two years from age 50. However, if you have a family history of the disease screening should be started earlier- from around 10 years before the age of the earliest cancer diagnosis in your family. Dr Adrian Sartoretto, Consultant Gastroenterologist, notes that there are more younger people being diagnosed with bowel cancer.

“Today, people in their thirties are around three times more likely to be diagnosed with bowel cancer than their parent’s generation was in their thirties. This is thought to be the result of our changing diet; inadequate vegetable intake, increased processed meat consumption and the rise in obesity.”

Don’t be embarrassed to talk about it

Dr Doug Samuel, Consultant Gastroenterologist

Gastroenterologist, Dr Doug Samuel explained that there is not enough awareness about bowel cancer, most likely because it’s not a popular topic of conversation. “People don’t realise that it’s a major cause of death in Australia and if a patient had screening and detected the cancer at an early stage it is curable.”

"Most people with early bowel cancers experience no symptoms. Also, seventy percent of people diagnosed with bowel cancer have no family members with the disease. Screening has its value in picking up these silent bowel cancers and improving patient outcomes – we need that message to get through and loud and clear.”

Symptoms of bowel cancer include blood in the stool or rectal bleeding, prolonged changes in bowel habits, unexplained anaemia and weight loss, abdominal pain or swelling. While these symptoms don’t necessarily mean you have bowel cancer, they should be investigated.

Both Dr Sartoretto and Dr Samuel are clearly in agreement that the take home message is: ‘Everyone should complete a bowel cancer screening kit because detecting bowel cancer early could save your life.’

Don’t be afraid to get tested

Dr Ayaz Chowdhury FRACP, Consultant Gastroenterologist

Bowel cancer is deadly and becoming more common, making early detection vital. Dr Ayaz Chowdhury FRACP, Consultant Gastroenterologist mentioned that an extensive public advertising campaign should be considered in order to increase awareness of bowel cancer.

“We have found that when individuals are presented with the facts associated with the prevention and treatment options related to bowel cancer, that their willingness to be voluntarily screened dramatically increases. Stool testing kits are inexpensive and relatively straightforward to use. They serve as an effective screening test which could save your life.”

"People need to know that screening for bowel cancer can involve a simple non-invasive test conducted in their own homes, and that they shouldn’t be afraid to be tested,” he said.