This month we raise awareness for a disease that affects 1 in 13 Australians. Bowel cancer (also known as colorectal cancer) is cancer of the colon or rectum (1). Most bowel cancers develop from polyps, which are small growths located on the bowel wall (2).
Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer related deaths in Australia, with about 15,000 people being diagnosed each year (3). It can affect anyone; however, you are at an increased risk of getting bowel cancer if you (2):
> are aged 50 years and older
> have a history of other bowel diseases (such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis) or have a family history of bowel cancer
> are overweight
> are not physically active
> consume large amounts of alcohol.
Like other cancers, bowel cancer can develop with no signs or symptoms at all.
Some signs to watch out for include: (2)
> blood in your bowel motions
> persistent abdominal pain
> persistent changes in bowel habits (for example, consistent diarrhoea or constipation)
> sudden weight loss
> bleeding from the rectum
> unexplained tiredness.
It is recommended for men and women to undertake a bowel cancer screening test every two years, known as a ‘faecal occult blood test’. Screening tests help detect bowel cancer early, when it is easier to treat and cure (4). It can also help find small polyps in the bowel, which can be removed before they turn into cancer (4).
The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program provides a free screening test for men and women turning specific ages over 50 who have a Medicare or Department of Veterans’ Affairs card (4). It involves collecting samples from two or three bowel motions using the kit provided, which is then sent off to a laboratory to be tested.
For those not eligible to receive the free bowel cancer screening tests, they can be purchased at all National Pharmacies stores.
To reduce your risk of bowel cancer, it is recommended to: (3)
> quit smoking
> limit alcohol consumption
> maintain a healthy weight by eating lots of fruit, vegetables and high fibre foods
> exercising regularly, for 30 minutes each day, on most days of the week
> avoiding processed meats and limiting red meat consumption.
For more information on how to reduce your risk of getting bowel cancer or for further information about screening tests, please speak to your National Pharmacies pharmacist or general practitioner.
Georgina Zerella, Intern Pharmacist, National Pharmacies Norwood
References: (1) https://www.bowelcanceraustralia.org/ understanding-bowel-cancer (2) http://sahealth.sa.gov.au/ wps/wcm/connect/Public+Content/SA+Health+Internet/ Health+topics/Health+conditions+prevention+and+treatment/ Cancer/Types+of+cancers/Bowel+cancer (3) https://www. cancercouncil.com.au/bowel-cancer/ (4) http://sahealth.sa.gov. au/wps/wcm/connect/Public+Content/SA+Health+Internet/ Healthy+living/Recommended+health+checks/Bowel+screening
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