IGNORING symptoms of bowel cancer has deadly consequences, with the disease responsible for the death of more than 4000 Australians every year.

It is the second most common type of newly diagnosed cancer in the country, but the good news is that when detected at its earliest stages, 90 percent of bowel cancer cases can be successfully treated.

Unfortunately, bowel cancer remains Australia’s second deadliest cancer, and is now the most common cause of cancer death among people aged 25-29.

Once considered an ‘old man’s disease’, bowel cancer doesn’t discriminate, affecting men and women almost equally, and appearing increasingly in younger Australians.

Although a person’s risk increases sharply from age 50, research indicates those born in 1990 have double the risk of colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer compared to people born in 1950.

Bowel Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM) is an annual public education initiative of Bowel Cancer Australia (BCA), running throughout the month of June each year, and aims to raise public awareness of a disease that claims the lives of 84 Australians every week.

From the city to the country, from the home to the workplace, individuals, families, health professionals, schools and businesses help to spread the word.

To help combat this major health issue, a National Bowel Cancer Screening Program was established in 2006 under the Federal Government, which provides taxpayer funded at-home bowel cancer screening kits to Australians aged between 50 and 74.

The kits arrive in the mail around the time of a person’s birthday, beginning at age 50 and every two years thereafter.

The kits enable individuals to carry out a ‘Faecal Immunochemical Blood Test’ which detects tiny traces of blood in faeces, invisible to the naked eye, and which may be a sign of cancer, or polyps, which may develop into cancer over time.

Vital testing

Colorectal cancer surgeon, Dr Graham Newstead, said if blood is detected, you should contact your GP immediately to discuss the result and obtain a referral for further investigation via colonoscopy within 30 days.

“Presence of blood may be due to conditions other than cancer, such as polyps, haemorrhoids, or inflammation of the bowel, but the cause of bleeding needs to be investigated by colonoscopy,” Dr Newstead said.

Research shows wait times exceeding 120 days are associated with poorer outcomes, which is why BCA is calling on Federal, State and Territory governments to address the growing delays to accessing diagnostic colonoscopy.

BCA CEO, Julien Wiggins, ABOVE, said the Federal Health Department hopes participation in the national screening program will increase from 41 percent to 56 percent by 2020, but screening is only effective if followed up by diagnostic colonoscopy to identify if bowel cancer is present.

“Nine in 10 people who participate in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program and receive a positive screen are waiting between 114 to 197 days according to a Monitoring Report released in 2017,” he said.

“Asking people to wait six months or even longer to learn their fate following a positive screen or after experiencing symptoms suggestive of bowel cancer for two weeks or more is simply unacceptable.”

Dr Newstead said performing a colonoscopy as promptly as possible minimises the risk of psychological harm in people with a positive screen awaiting investigation, and in those experiencing symptoms.

“Prompt scheduling also helps to ensure any unexpected delays between GP referral and colonoscopy do not flow on to exceed the 120-day threshold when prognosis can worsen if cancer exists,” he said.

If you experience the presence of blood in bowel movement, unexplained weight loss, persistent change in bowel habit or severe abdominal pain, you should consult your doctor immediately.

Welcome growth

From its humble beginnings, BCA has grown to become the leading community-funded charity dedicated to prevention, early diagnosis, research, quality treatment and care for everyone affected by bowel cancer.

In 2017, it was named the inaugural Non-Government Organisation of the Year by health professionals and stakeholders at the national PRIME Awards.

The organisation provides critical programs in every Australian State and Territory, as well as meaningful collaborations around the world, and BCA is credited with making real change happen across the entire continuum of care.

BCA’s website ( outlines its commitment to the cause. BCA provides practical and emotional support for the growing number of Australians affected by bowel cancer, building communities through shared experiences and creating a powerful voice for change.

Bowel cancer is Australia’s second deadliest cancer after lung cancer, and claims more lives than breast or prostate cancer, yet fewer than 40 percent of bowel cancers are detected early.

Bowel cancer cases in adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 24 years in Australia have increased 185 percent in the past three decades.

More than 5200 Australians are told they have bowel cancer each year, including 2186 people under the age of 55 – that’s one in 13 people. For about 25 percent of all bowel cancer cases, there is a family history or hereditary contribution.

A highlight of BCAM is Red Apple Day, which will be held on Wednesday, June 20, when Australians are encouraged to support the vital work of BCA through the purchase of a Bowel Cancer Awareness Ribbon, and apple-themed fund-raising activities.

For more information visit Bowel Cancer Australia’s Bowel Cancer Awareness Month website:

NEXT: A local perspective on bowel cancer awareness.