Bowel Cancer Awareness Month

June 3, 2018

Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, can affect any part of the large bowel (colon) or rectum.
Most bowel cancers start as benign, non-threatening growths (called polyps) on the wall or lining of the bowel. Some polyps are harmless but other can become cancerous (malignant).
Australia has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world with 1 in 13 Australians developing the disease in their lifetime. Almost 90% of bowel cancer cases can be treated successfully when detected early.

Downloadable Fact Sheet: Bowel Cancer Awareness

Risk Factors

The risk of developing bowel cancer rises increases from the age of 50.
Bowel cancer risk is increased by smoking, eating red meat (especially when charred), eating processed meats (smoked, cured, salted or preserved), drinking alcohol, and being overweight or obese.
Family history also influences bowel cancer risk.


During the early stages, most patients have no symptoms and so screening over the age of 50 is very important. Symptoms can include:

  • Blood in the stool/rectal bleeding
  • A recent, persistent change in bowel habit, especially if severe (including diarrhoea, constipation or the feeling of incomplete emptying)
  • A change in the shape or appearance of bowel movements (e.g. more narrow than usual)
  • Abdominal pain or swelling
  • Pain or a lump in the anus or rectum
  • Unexplained tiredness as a result of loss of blood (anaemia).


Bowel cancer screening is recommended for people aged 50 and over using a Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) every 1 to 2 years.
Screening involves placing small samples of toilet water or stool on a special card provided as part of a faecal immunochemical test (FIT). This might be via a local pathology collection centre or through programmes run by community groups like Rotary.
Following analysis, the results are sent to the individual and their GP. A positive result means blood has been detected in the samples.
It is not diagnostic of bowel cancer but does require further investigation by the GP and a probable referral for colonoscopy (a specialist investigation examining the bowel via fibre optic camera).
People from families with a history of bowel cancer need extra testing to find bowel cancers early which might include regular colonoscopies.