Bowel cancer – are you at risk ?

This month is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month. Bowel cancer claims the lives of over 80 Australians a week, however through early detection it is one of the most treatable cancers. Are you at risk? It’s important to know the symptoms and consider your lifestyle in order to prevent this disease.

Below are the key things you need to know:

Bowel cancer occurs in the inner walls of the large intestine and is the second most common cancer in Australia (Cancer Council, 2018). The estimated number of new cases of colorectal cancer diagnosed in 2018 is 17,004 people. If detected early, the chance of successful treatment and the long-term survival rate improves substantially (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2018).

What are the bowel cancer symptoms I need to look out for?

Not all bowel cancers will show symptoms and having symptoms does not necessarily mean you have bowel cancer. If you notice or are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is still a good idea to check with your doctor:

  • Any sign of blood after a bowel movement;
  • a change in bowel habits such as constipation or diarrhoea;
  • abdominal pain or bloating;
  • weight loss for no apparent reason; and
  • symptoms of anaemia, such as unexplained fatigue, body weakness, or breathlessness.

Who is at risk?

The risk of developing bowel cancer increases with age for both women and men particularly from age 50. Your risk may increase if you have:

  • A previous history of polyps in the bowel;
  • a previous history of bowel cancer;
  • chronic inflammatory bowel disease (e.g. Crohn’s disease);
  • a strong family history of bowel cancer; and
  • increased insulin levels or type II diabetes.

How can I reduce my risk?

When it comes to cancer, there are no guarantees, but there are diet and lifestyle factors you can modify to greatly reduce your risk. Bowel cancer screening and continuous surveillance are important preventative behaviours to adopt into your current lifestyle.

Modifiable risk factors include:

Physical exercise: Among those aged 18-24, 45% of men and 51% of women are physically inactive. For adults aged 55-64, 60% of women and 54% of men are insufficiently active. Exercising doesn’t have to involve a gym membership-grab a pair of good trainers and get walking!

Diet: Consuming dietary fibre reduces the risk of developing bowel cancer. Skipping out on a daily dose of fibre can also increase your risk of constipation. Fibre consumption helps to regulate blood sugar, thus, balancing insulin levels. Fibre contributes to the feeling of satiety, helping you to feel fuller, for longer. Some of the best high fibre foods include: split peas, lentils, lima beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, artichokes, raspberries, blackberries, avocados, oats, pears, and flax seeds.

Smoking and alcohol: Almost 1 in 8 Australians smoke daily and 1 in 5 Australians consume more than 2 standard drinks per day; both habits increase the risk of developing bowel cancer.

Red and processed meat: Australians consume an average of 565 grams of red meat per week. A high consumption of red meat and processed/cured meats is associated with increase bowel cancer risk. Try swapping red meat for other sources of lean protein, such as turkey, chicken, eggs, fish, and vegetarian sources, such as tempeh and tofu. Limit red meat intake to once per week, from grass-fed sources is best.

Being overweight or obese: Nearly every 2 in 3 Australians are overweight or obese. Losing weight by cutting alcohol consumption, increasing physical activity, and ensuring a healthy diet will help to keep you and your colon happy, and healthy!

If you’re currently experiencing suspicious symptoms, speak to a doctor. Our GPs are available to assess your risk Elevate general practitioners and if you are looking to adjust diet and lifestyle factors, our Naturopath and Nutritionist, Amanda Harasym, can help bring your body back into a healthy balance.

Call Elevate on 9252 2225 for more information.

Find out more about Bowel Cancer Awareness Month HERE

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2018). Bowel cancer in Australia. Retrieved from
Cancer Council Australia (2018). Bowel cancer. Retrieved from
Bowel Cancer Australia (2018). Diet and lifestyle. Retrieved from


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