What your bowel does:
Your bowel is part of your digestive system. This part of your body breaks down food and passes it out of your body in a bowel motion.
Your bowel has three parts:
- Small Bowel - which absorbs nutrients from broken-down food
- Colon - which mainly absorbs water
- Rectum - which stores poo until it is passed from the body through the bottom
What is bowel cancer?
- Bowel cancer most commonly develops inside the large bowel (colon and rectum)
- Most bowel cancers develop from small lumps called polyps in the bowel lining
- Not all polyps turn into cancer
- Removing polyps reduces your risk of bowel cancer.
Here's some key points people are often not aware of:
According to the Cancer Council Australia bowel cancer causes the second highest number of cancer related deaths
Whilst people aged over 50 are at greater risk – bowel cancer can affect people from different age groups, even those in their 20s and 30s. Symptoms such as blood loss from the bowel, a change in bowel habit, unexplained weight loss require investigation. Don’t sit on symptoms – always get them checked by your GP.
Don’t self-diagnose a haemorrhoid to explain rectal blood loss – please leave diagnosing medical conditions to your doctor. I can’t tell you how many times I have had a patient walk into my consulting room and declare they have a “haemorrhoid” causing rectal bleeding. When I ask, “who diagnosed it and when?” the answer is often “I googled it, and it must be a haemorrhoid.” Please (please, please) don’t self- diagnose rectal bleeding symptoms with Dr Google as your guide. Whilst a haemorrhoid can cause rectal bleeding (and it’s a common cause) – we need to take a full history and examine you to ensure there is nothing else going on. There are other conditions including inflammatory bowel disease and yes, bowel cancer that can cause these symptoms and we need to be sure we are not missing anything.
There are things you can do to reduce your risk of bowel cancer. Staying physically active, eating a diet high in fruit, vegetables, and fibre, and reducing alcohol intake (and sticking to the recommendations (or below them!) in the guidelines which is no more than 2 standard drinks per day for both men and women) are all measures that reduce your risk of bowel cancer!
If you are over 50 there is a bowel cancer screening program in Australia that could save your life! 90% of bowel cancers can be cured if they are detected early – the intention of the screening program in Australia is to detect bowel cancer early so we can intervene early and improve outcomes. From age 50 to 74 you are eligible to take part in the program and sadly – lots of people don’t but it can be lifesaving! Every 2 years you will receive a test in the mail to test stool samples at home – you only need to collect a small sample and the test checks for microscopic blood in the stools. If blood is detected your GP receives the result and we will arrange for a colonoscopy to be one (a procedure where a camera is placed inside the bowel under anaesthetic to look for a potential bleeding source like cancer or a polyp). If you don’t get the test in the mail, your friendly GP, will give you a kit! It’s incredibly easy and so important! Please don’t let poo scare you (I tell my patients this often in the consulting room!)– this test could save your life!