The part of you between the chest and the hips containing most of your gastrointestinal tract apart from your oesophagus that takes food from your mouth down through your chest where it joins on to the stomach.  Other words commonly used to describe the abdomen are the belly, the gut or the tummy. 

To help describe where you maybe feeling pain in your abdomen there are systems dividing the abdomen up into four or nine different sections.  Doctors may talk about things such as epigastrium or right iliac fossa or right upper quadrant.  It is much better if you have a pain in the abdomen to think carefully about where it is so that you can later accurately point out the site to your doctor.  Sometimes a pain may be felt all over your abdomen or sometimes the pain may move around or be felt in different parts of the abdomen on different occasions.

Abdomino-Perineal resection    
An operation in which the last part of the bowel is cut out and the remaining large bowel is brought out through the lower abdominal wall and drains into a bag.  This is called a colostomy.

When something is not normal.  This is a vague term.  Sometimes your doctor may not appreciate how worried you may be and if you are concerned you should not be afraid to ask for further explanation.

A collection of pus.  Pus is made up of dead white blood cells that have been involved in trying to overcome an infection.  An abscess may occur after severe appendicitis, diverticulitis, and pancreatitis or after a perforated ulcer.

Once food has been broken down by digestion it has to get from your gut in to your body.  This transfer process is called absorption and occurs mainly in the small intestine and the breakdown products of food are transferred by blood vessels to your liver for further processing.

A rare disease of the muscles of the oesophagus that can cause swallowing difficulties.

Acute pain                      
Acute pain begins suddenly and is usually sharp in quality.  It might be mild and last just a moment, or it might be severe and last for weeks or months.  In most cases, acute pain does not last longer than six months, and it disappears when the underlying cause of pain has been treated or has healed.  Unrelieved acute pain, howver, might lead to chronic pain.

Scar tissue inside the abdomen that may cause loops of intestines to stick together and sometimes cause a blockage known as a bowel obstruction.  In years gone by many people with abdominal pain that would now be put down to conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome had operations to divide adhesions.  Nowadays surgeons are reluctant to operate on adhesions unless there is clear evidence of persisting blockage.  Adhesions commonly follow previous operations in the abdomen and one problem with having an operation to divide adhesions is that further adhesions may occur as a result of the operation.

This occurs when you swallow too much air.  The problem is that air in the stomach causes discomfort which makes you want to belch more.  Medical jargon for belching is eructation.

See Lactose intolerance.

A protein widely distributed in the body.

Chronic consumption of excessive amounts of alcohol damaging well being and health.  A standard drink contains 10g of alcohol. The National Health & Medical Research Council (NH&MRC) recommends that men should not consume more than four standard drinks a day and women are advised not to consume more than two standard drinks a day.

Alimentary canal     
Gastrointestinal tract or GIT.

An infection caused by a parasite that can cause diarrhoea and may sometimes cause an abscess in the liver.  People usually pick up the infection when travelling overseas.

Not enough red blood cells in the body.  Red blood cells contain a substance called haemoglobin that carries oxygen around the body and the level of haemoglobin in the blood is measured so that people with anaemia have low haemoglobin.  This may occur if not enough red blood cells are made in the bone marrow or if blood is lost in the gastrointestinal tract.

Anal fissure            
A superficial tear at the opening of the bowel, the anus.  It commonly follows severe constipation and it can be extremely painful.  It may require a simple operation but recently nitro-glycerine cream has been found to be helpful in many cases.

Anal fistula             
A channel passing from inside the anus out through the skin and may be the end result of an abscess but may also occur in a chronic bowel inflammation known as Crohn’s disease.

An operation where a surgeon joins two things together such as if a portion of bowel is removed and the two free ends are sewn together again.

Abnormal blood vessels in the gastrointestinal tract that may cause bleeding.

An x-ray taken after dye is injected into blood vessels so that a picture of the blood vessels can be taken and it may be possible to see abnormal bleeding occurring from the blood vessels.  Sometimes angiograms may show bleeding into the gut in conditions such as angiodysplasia.

A medicine that helps neutralise acid in the upper part of the gut.

Medicines that reduce spasm in gut muscle and were used in the past to try to reduce the amount of acid produced in the stomach.

Antidiarrhoeal drugs
Drugs that may help reduce diarrhoea.

Antiemetic drugs     
Medicines that help prevent nausea and vomiting (emesis).

Antispasmodic drugs
Medicines that may help reduce spasm of intestinal muscle.

A surgical operation to remove the last part of the stomach called the distal part.  The first part of the stomach is called the proximal part.

The opening at the lower end of the gastrointestinal or digestive tract through which bowel movements/bowel actions/faeces/bowel contents leave the body.  

Ascending colon      
The colon is the last part of the intestines.  Ascending refers to the direction in which the bowel contents are moving through the colon.  This part of the colon is found on the right side of the abdomen.

An accumulation of large amounts of fluid in the abdominal cavity.  There are many cause of this condition such as cirrhosis of the liver or the spread of cancer cells to the abdominal cavity.

When a disease may be present but it is not causing and displaying and symptoms.

A blockage of various parts of the gut due to failure of normal development.

Atrophic gastritis     
A chronic inflammation of the stomach lining causing the lining to shrink.  ‘Atrophy’ means shrinking away and ‘itis’ means inflammation - so appendicitis means inflammation of the appendix; oesophagitis means inflammation of the oesophagus; and colitis means inflammation of the colon.

Auto-Immune disease     
The body gets confused and thinks that its own tissues are foreign invaders that need to be killed, so it produces antibodies which damage itself.

Auto-Immune hepatitis
Liver disease that occurs when the body’s immune system destroys its own liver cells by mistake.




Another word for germs.  The gut normally contains lots of different bacteria which live there quite happily and don’t cause any problems.  Sometimes bacteria can cause problems if they get where they don’t belong such as if there is a perforation or hole occurring in the gut and bacteria spill out into the abdominal cavity.  This leads to an inflammation called peritonitis.

Sometimes harmful bacteria can get in to the gut and grow there and cause damage.  This occurs in conditions such as food poisoning or bacterial gastroenteritis.  These harmful bacteria are called pathogenic bacteria.  Damage may sometimes be caused by other organisms in the gut such as viruses or parasites but these are different from bacteria.

A white substance which shows up on x-rays and is used in x-ray examinations called barium meals, where it is swallowed, or barium enemas, where it is inserted into the large bowel via a tube passed into the rectum via the anus.

Barrett’s oesophagus      
Barrett’s oesophagus occurs when excessive amounts of stomach acid reflux back into the oesophagus and the lining changes as a result.  The lining becomes more like the lining of the stomach which is better able to resist damage by acid.

This is also sometimes referred to as burping or eructation.  The valve or sphincter at the lower end of the oesophagus relaxes and gas from the stomach is released up through the oesophagus, sometimes quite noisily.  It can lead to problems if it is done to excess and can lead to a condition known as aerophagy.

Benign / non malignant      
A condition which, untreated or with symptomatic therapy, will not become life-threatening.  It is used in particular in relation to tumours, which may be benign or malignant.  Benign tumours do not invade surrounding tissues and do note metastasize to other parts of the body.  Some benign tumours can however cause life-threatening complications due to mass effect.   

Bernstein test   
An older test used to try to find out whether chest pain is due to acid in the oesophagus.  A tube is passed in to the oesophagus and acid similar to stomach acid is dripped in and it is helpful for the patient to let the doctor know whether this causes the sort of pain that has been previously present.

A yellow green fluid made by the liver that passes down the bile duct into the upper part of the small intestine known as the duodenum.  Some of the bile is stored in the gall bladder.  Bile is used by the body to help get rid of waste products that are passed out in the bowel motions or faeces.  Bile is also useful in helping to get fat in the diet into solution so that it is more easily digested and absorbed.

Bile ducts          
The pipes that carry bile from the liver down to the intestine.  The gall bladder and bile ducts are sometimes referred to as the biliary system/tract/tree.

Biliary atresia    
This is a rare condition that some babies are born with (ie. a congenital condition).  Because the bile ducts do not develop properly bile cannot pass from the liver into the intestine and this can lead to jaundice and chronic liver damage.  

Biliary stricture  
A narrowing of the bile duct due to things such as scar tissue, cancer or external pressure.  It may lead to jaundice.

A substance found in the bile that gives bile its colour.  It is caused by the breakdown of haemoglobin which is found in red blood cells.  Red blood cells are broken down when the get too old to work efficiently.  Bilirubin is normally passed out in the bowel motions/faeces/stools and the broken down products of bilirubin influence the colour of the bowel motions.  When too much bilirubin builds up in the body a yellow colour known as jaundice appears in the skin and particularly in the whites of the eyes.

Removal of a small piece of tissue for examination by the pathologist under the microscope after careful preparation.  Biopsies may be taken by various techniques such as via a needle or a small snipping may be taken using biopsy forceps during an endoscopy procedure.

A feeling of fullness in the abdomen.  This may occur if we have eaten too much or if there is too much wind in the gut, but sometimes these feelings can occur with normal amounts of gut contents if the gut is oversensitive.

Abdominal rumbling sounds caused by passage of gas and liquid down through the intestines.

The small and large intestines are known as the bowel. 

Bowel movement   
This is the waste products from the body that pass down through the gut and out through the rectum and anus.  Other terms used to describe this matter are faeces, bowel actions or stools.  

Bowel preparation 
Methods that are used to clean out the large intestine before it can be properly examined with a bowel x-ray or colonoscopy.  

Brain gut axis
The gastrointestinal tract has nearly as many nerve cells as the brain itself, and is sometimes called the ‘little brain’.  There are many connections between the brain and the gut.  This is called the ‘brain gut axis’.  Events that occur within our gut, such as eating, gastrointestinal infection or contractions in the bowel all send messages to our brain. Sometimes we are aware of these messages and sometimes we are not. Patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome are more sensitive and may be aware of more of these messages.

When we are stressed or anxious, certain hormones are released within our brain, and these same hormones can also affect the nerves in our gut. Therefore stress, particularly in patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, can make symptoms worse.  Many healthy people may notice that when they are stressed, such as prior to public speaking, they may have tummy cramps or the need to open our bowels.  Studies have shown that certain psychological treatments such as relaxation therapy, treatments changing our behaviour in response to pain, can help symptoms in Irritable Bowel Syndrome.  Looking at ways to reduce stress is an important aspect of treatment in Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Bulking agent    
These substances are swallowed and retain water in the bowel motions.  This causes bowel motions to be bulky and softer enabling them to be passed more regularly and more easily.  Bulking agents are commonly used to treat constipation.  They sometimes help people with diarrhoea by making watery bowel motions a little more solid.

Bypass procedure
An operation in which a new passage is created so that things such as food or bile can pass more easily when there has been a blockage.  Most people are probably more familiar with a coronary artery bypass procedure which is carried out when there has been a blockage to the coronary arteries supplying blood to the heart muscle.




The first part of the large bowel or colon.  The last part of the small bowel, called the ileum, drains into the caecum and the appendix is attached to the caecum.

Stones that can form in various parts of the body such as in the gallbladder or the kidneys.

Campylobacter jejuni         
A germ that causes many cases of infectious diarrhoea or food poisoning.

Campylobacter pylori         
The old name for helicobacter pylori, the germ in the stomach that has recently been found to cause most peptic ulcers.

Cancer or carcinoma          
A malignant tumour, growth or neoplasm.  This occurs when cells in various organs in the body keep dividing and growing out of control and can cause problems by placing pressure on surrounding tissues and by spreading to invade other parts of the body.

A fungus that normally lives in small numbers in the gut.  It rarely causes problems when it is found in increased numbers such as in thrush affecting the mouth or the oesophagus or it may cause vaginal thrush, particularly after treatment with broad spectrum antibiotics.  It can occasionally cause a severe generalised infection in patients with a depressed immune system.

Carbohydrates along with fats and proteins are one of the three main components of food. Starches and sugars are carbohydrates and are broken down in the body to sugar called glucose which is stored in the liver until it is needed to be used for energy to help the body function.

Another word for laxatives, drugs that help overcome constipation.

A tube used to take fluids into or out of different parts of the body.

A type of dietary fibre derived from vegetables.

Chenodeoxycholic acid       
A chemical that is found naturally in the bile and is still rarely used to try to dissolve certain gallstones.

X-rays of the bile ducts.

Infection of the bile ducts.

Removal of the gall bladder.  In the past this was done with an incision in the abdominal wall and was known as an open cholecystectomy.  Nowadays a cholecystectomy is carried out with a procedure where several very tiny cuts are made in the abdominal wall and special long thin instruments are used and this is known as a laparoscopic cholecystectomy.  Using this technique the patient is usually out of hospital much more quickly and has less post-operative discomfort.

Inflammation of the gall bladder.

A hormone that is produced in the lining of the small intestine and that causes the muscle in the gallbladder wall to contract.

Stones in the bile ducts.

Stones in the gallbladder, known as gallstones.

Obstruction to the flow of bile.

A fat like substance that is found in bile and in many gallstones as well as being found in the wall of blood vessels causing narrowing such as in coronary artery disease.

Chronic pain                             
Chronic pain persists despite the fact that the injury has healed.  Pain signals remain active in the nervous system for weeks, months, or years.  Physical effects include tense muscles, limited mobility, a lack of energy, and changes in appetite.  Emotional effects include depression, anger, anxiety, and of re-injury.  Such a fear migh hinder a person's ability to return to normal work or leisure activities.

Liver damage with scar tissue in the liver due to many causes particularly prolonged excessive consumption of alcohol.

Clostridium difficile            
Germs that are normally present in the large bowel but can increase dramatically in number sometimes after the use of antibiotics. The germ can produce a poison/toxin that can damage the bowel wall and cause an inflammation known as pseudomembranous colitis resulting in severe diarrhoea.

Coeliac disease                 
A condition in which the lining of the small intestine is damaged by foods containing gluten, such as wheat products.  The damaged bowel is not able to absorb food properly leading to a condition called malabsorption.  Apart from causing diarrhoea coeliac disease may also cause anaemia because of problems absorbing iron and folic acid and it may cause osteoporosis.

There is a simple blood test to suggest that the disease is present but the diagnosis needs to be confirmed with a duodenal biopsy. The diagnosis should be confirmed before starting on a gluten free diet.

A surgical operation in which part or all of the large bowel or colon is removed.

Abdominal pain coming from the large or small intestine.  Typically the pain comes and goes like a labour pain.

Inflammation of the large bowel or colon.

A protein found in what is called connective tissue, such as in cartilage or bone.

Collanenous colitis             
A type of inflammation of the large bowel or colon where increased amounts of collagen can be seen by the pathologist who looks at biopsies from the lining of the colon using a microscope.

Collateral vessels              
These are side branches of a main blood vessel that may allow some blood to bypass a blockage of the main vessel.

Large bowel.

A test where a long thin flexible instrument is passed in through the anus to the rectum and the rest of the large bowel so that it can be inspected and if necessary photographs and biopsies taken, and polyps can be removed by a procedure known as polypectomy. Sometimes the colonoscope can be passed further up into the last part of the small intestine, the terminal ileum.  The patient is given sedation with an injection prior to the procedure.  A bowel preparation is given prior to the procedure because the bowel has to be empty of faeces for the test to be successful.

Something to do with the colon or the rectum or both.  A colorectal surgeon is a surgeon who specialises in diseases of the colon and rectum.  Colorectal cancer describes cancers that occur in the colon or large bowel or in the rectum, the last part of the large bowel.

A surgical operation where the faeces, stool or bowel motions leave the body through an opening where the colon has been joined to the abdominal wall and pass into a bag which can be emptied from time to time.  This may be done as a temporary procedure to avoid leaking when a portion of the bowel has been removed and the two ends sutured together downstream from the colostomy or it may be done as a permanent procedure when the rectum is removed for cancer.  

Common bile duct              
The tube that carries bile from the liver to the duodenum. If the bile duct is obstructed by things such as gallstones or cancer then jaundice and also pruritus or itching of the skin may result.

Computerised tomography scanning or CT scan       
A special x-ray that can be helpful in diagnosing certain gastrointestinal diseases.

Present at birth.

Condition where the stools are passed less frequently and are hard.

A group of medications that can be useful in treating various forms of inflammation such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease or chronic active hepatitis.

Crohn's disease                 
A chronic inflammation that can affect the entire gastrointestinal tract but commonly affects the last part of the small intestine, called the terminal ileum or the colon when it is called Crohn’s colitis.  It was named after the radiologist who first described it.  Although there are many theories the exact cause remains unknown.  There are effective medications to help control the disease and sometimes surgical operations may be needed.

Cryptosporidia parasites that can cause gastroenteritis     
This is more of a problem in patients who have a depressed immune system such as those with AIDS.  The parasite may sometimes be found in the water supply.

Cystic duct                        
The tube joining the gallbladder to the common bile duct.  If a gallstone blocks the duct as it tries to pass from the gallbladder out into the common bile duct it causes a condition known as cystic duct obstruction.

Cystic fibrosis
This is an inherited disease that causes particular problems with the lungs but also can cause problems with the pancreas leading to difficulty absorbing food properly, a condition called malabsorption.




This is also referred to by other terms such as having a bowel action, emptying or opening the bowels.  It is the passage of bowel contents, containing waste products and undigested food residue out through the rectum and the anus.  It is a complicated process involving spontaneous contraction of muscle in the bowel wall along with relaxation of the sphincter muscles and voluntary straining of the abdominal wall muscles to increase the pressure within the abdomen.

Occurs when there is not enough fluid in the body.  This may happen with decreased fluid intake and increased fluid losses due to things such as diarrhoea, vomiting and excessive sweating.

Delayed gastric emptying
This occurs when the muscles in the stomach wall don’t contract properly (gastroparesis) or when there is a blockage to the outlet of the stomach, called the pylorus.

Descending colon  
This is the part of the colon or large bowel found on the left side of the abdomen.  It is called descending because the bowel contents in this part of the colon are moving downwards when you are standing up.

Diagnostic imaging
The use of various machines to obtain pictures or images of various internal organs.  This includes investigations such as x-rays, CT scans, ultrasound examinations, radio-isotope scans and MRI scans.

A muscle wall between the chest cavity and the abdominal cavity.  It is like a partition between the two cavities and it has a hole in it through which the oesophagus passes to join the stomach.  Sometimes the upper part of the stomach can slide up through this hole and this is known as a hiatus hernia.  The diaphragm muscle is important in breathing.

Refers to more frequent and softer than normal bowel actions.

Widespread.  For example, diffuse abdominal pain.  If the pain is felt in one small area it is called ‘localised’ pain.

The breaking down of food into tiny particles that can be absorbed through the wall of the intestine.

An increase in the diameter of a section of the gut or other hollow organ.

In the gut, where contents flow all the way from the mouth right down to the anus, distal refers to a part of the gut that is downstream.

Occurs when the abdomen is swollen up.  This is different from the word ‘bloating’ which refers to feeling overly full but not actually being swollen.

A medicine that increases the output of urine.  In gastroenterology a diuretic is often used in treating the accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity, known as ascites.

This is a little out-pouching through the wall of the intestine, usually in the large bowel or colon although it can occur in other parts of the gut such as the oesophagus, the stomach or the small intestine.  

Double contrast barium enema  
When barium enemas are carried out they are usually done so using the double contrast technique where air and barium are introduced into the colon providing more information than older techniques where just barium was used, the so-called single contrast barium enema.

Double-blinded randomised trials
These day’s doctors like to base recommendations about patient management, like investigation and treatment, on evidence derived from the medical and scientific literature. This is not always possible but the best and most reliable form of evidence comes from so-called ‘double-blind randomised trials’.

In order to be reliable and reproducible, any medical study, for example of a new medication or treatment, needs to exclude any possible form of bias.  The ‘double-blinding’ of properly conducted studies refers to the requirement that neither doctor nor patient knows which form of treatment that particular patient is receiving.  

A typical trial might be designed to see whether a new pain-killing tablet works.  In such a trial, the new drug would usually be compared to a placebo or to an established and effective form of treatment.  If the patient knows that they are on placebo treatment only, it might influence their opinion about the efficacy of their own treatment.  Similarly, were the doctor to know which tablet a given patient is receiving, their subjective assessments of efficacy might be unwittingly influenced.  In either instance, the results would become unreliable.

‘Randomisation’ refers to the process by which patients are assigned to different treatment groups.  These days such allocation is often done by computerised randomisation programmes. This part of the study design is important so that the two groups being treated are comparable.  In the example of a new analgesic tablet referred to above, it would be unfair to enlist all patients say with more severe pain to one treatment group, since it could clearly influence conclusions about efficacy.

Dumping Syndrome
This occurs when food moves too quickly from the stomach into the small intestine resulting in symptoms such as faintness and sweating after eating meals.  

This is the first part of the small intestine immediately beyond the stomach.  Bile and pancreatic juice empty into the duodenum where they mix with food that is passed through from the stomach. An ulcer may occur in the duodenum and is called a duodenal ulcer in contrast to a gastric ulcer that occurs in the stomach.  Both duodenal and gastric ulcers are known as peptic ulcers.  Peptic refers to the type of ulcer and duodenal and gastric refer to where the ulcer is situated.  

Occasionally an ulcer in the stomach may be an ulcerating cancer and this is referred to as a malignant ulcer in contrast to non-malignant or benign ulcers.  It is extremely rare to have a cancer in the duodenum, in contrast to the stomach.  Sometimes the duodenum may be diffusely inflamed and this is called duodenitis.  Sometimes there may be multiple tiny superficial ulcers in the duodenum and this is called duodenal erosions.

Severe diarrhoea due to an infection of the lining of the colon, usually due to bacteria such as Campylobacter Jejuni, Salmonella, Shigella or Pathogenic E Coli.  Dysentery is more likely to occur in patients travelling overseas.

This is indigestion or abdominal discomfort following meals.

Difficulty with swallowing




An electric current is passed through a thin wire which heats up the wire and can be used to cut through tissue and seal over any tiny blood vessels that are cut to prevent bleeding.  This is used in the common technique of polypectomy where polyps are removed from the gut, usually in the large bowel or colon.

Salts and minerals that are found in the body and their levels can be measured with simple blood tests.

The accidental passage of a bowel movement also referred to as faecal incontinence.

A thin flexible tube used for looking inside the gut.  The gastroscope is used for looking through the mouth into the upper gut and a different instrument called a colonoscope is used for looking through the anus and rectum into the colon and sometimes the last part of the small intestine called the ileum.

Endoscopic papillotomy or sphincterotomy    
A technique in which a fine wire is heated up with an electric current and used to make a small cut at the lower end of the bile duct where it joins the duodenum.  This is usually done so that a stone in the bile duct can then be pulled through into the duodenum using either a special basket or a balloon passed down through the endoscope.

Enteral nutrition            
A means of passing liquid food directly into the gut via a tube that may be passed down through the nose through the oesophagus into the stomach.  This is called a naso gastric tube. Sometimes using a special technique a tube can be passed through the skin of the abdominal wall directly into the stomach or into the small intestine using an endoscope.  This is known as a PEG (Percutaneous Endoscopic Gastrostomy) or PEJ (Percutaneous Endoscopic Jejunostomy). These techniques are typically used when patients are not able to swallow normally.

Is an ostomy or opening into the intestine through the wall of the abdomen.

Inflammation of the lining of the small intestine.

A protein that helps speed up chemical reactions.  In the gut enzymes help breakdown food that has been eaten and this process is called digestion.  The tiny particles of food can then be absorbed through the gut wall.

Eosinophil Gastroenteritis
A rare form of inflammation of the lining of the gut.

The tissue lining the gut. The gut lining is also called mucosa and the epithelium is the surface part of the mucosa.

ERCP (Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangio-Pancreatography)
An investigation in which an endoscope is passed down via the mouth into the duodenum and then a fine tube is passed through the endoscope and into the tiny opening of the common bile duct into the duodenum.  A special liquid known as dye or contrast is then injected with a syringe down through the fine pipe into the bile duct.  The dye is radio opaque which means that it shows up clearly on x-rays that are taken at the time of the procedure.  This enables the doctor doing the test to see the size of the bile duct and whether it contains things such as common bile duct stones.


Erythema nodosum       
Red painful lumps on the legs, occurring in various diseases including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

Evidence based medicine
In medicine, doctors try to make decisions by using the evidence available from the research available and from articles published in the medical literature.  Where possible doctors advise certain treatments only when there is research evidence available to prove that it is effective.

There are four levels of evidence: Level 1: Large review (metanalysis) of a collection of high quality studies.  Level 2: Studies involving large numbers of patients, where the treatment is compared to other treatments or to placebo.  Level 3: Studies that may not be compared to placebo, or may have been written retrospectively (after the treatment was given a decision was made to report on the outcome).  Level 4a: Information gained from surveys or descriptive reports.  Level 4b: The opinions of a group of experts within a certain area of medicine.

Damage to the skin such as around the anus in cases of prolonged severe diarrhoea.

The process by which the body gets rid of waste products such as through the gut or through the urine.

Extrahepatic Biliary Tree
The part of the biliary tree - the system of bile ducts that is found outside the liver.  The bile ducts inside the liver are called the intrahepatic bile ducts.




Faecal fat test    
The amount of fat passed in the faeces or stools or bowel motions is measured in the laboratory to see if too much fat is being passed because it is not able to be absorbed properly.  Passing too much fat in the bowel motions is referred to as steatorrhoea and there are various diseases that can cause this.

Faecal incontinence        
Occurs when you are not able to control the release of faeces/stool/bowel motions from the rectum.  It commonly occurs because of damage to the anal sphincter muscle.

Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT)
A test to detect tiny amounts of blood in faeces/stools, often released from bowel cancers or their precursors (polyps or adenomas) into the bowel motion. The test cannot tell if you have cancer but are used to identify those people who require further testing.

Waste matter eliminated from the body through the anus.  There are many other words such as stool, bowel motion, bowel action or excreta to describe faeces. 

Familial polyposis
An uncommon inherited condition in which many polyps occur in the colon.  There is a high risk that some of these polyps will turn into cancer.  If someone is found to have this condition it is important that other family members should consult their doctor.

Fatty liver          
A condition in which there is excessive fat stored in the liver cells.  It can occur in fat people but it can also occur in thin people when there is difficulty in getting stored fat out of liver cells.  It is a common cause of mild blood liver test abnormalities and fatty liver can be suggested by the appearance on an abdominal ultrasound or abdominal CT scan test.

Occurs when bacteria break down substances in the gut and it can lead to production of gas and bloating.  Certain foods such as beans and cabbage are particularly likely to cause excessive gas production because of this process.

Part of the diet that comes from plants.  It is not able to be easily digested in humans and it retains water and swells up which results in the bowel motions being softer and passed more easily.

Fibre optics         
Very fine, flexible glass fibres that passes light through them without heating up.  These are used in instruments called endoscopes to pass light into the gut.  The fibres are arranged in bundles.  Previously the fibres were used to pass a picture of the inside of the gut back up to the doctor carrying out the endoscopy test.  Although nowadays the fibres are used mainly just to take light down into the gut and there is a tiny video camera on the end of the endoscope. The patient actually swallows the tiny video camera and colour pictures are displayed on a monitor where they are viewed by the doctor.

A tear or crack, particularly a fissure in ano which means a tear at the anus.  This can be extremely painful and the tear usually occurs when a very hard, constipated bowel motion is passed.  As a result of the tear the sphincter muscle around the anus may go into spasm.

This is an abnormal passage between two organs (such as in a bowel inflammation known as Crohn’s disease when two inflamed pieces of intestine may stick together) or between an organ and the outside of the body (again such as in Crohn’s disease when an abnormal narrow passageway may pass from the rectum to the area around the anus).  This region around the anus and the vagina in females or the scrotum in males is referred to as the perineum. Typically inflammation or infection is involved in the process of fistula formation.  Sometimes it can be very hard to get fistulas to heal over and sometimes fistulas are deliberately kept open so that they will continue to drain and reduce the chance that they will lead to abscess formation when they are not able to drain properly.

The passage of gas from the gut out through the anus. 

An accumulation of gas in the stomach or intestines.

An x-ray machine that enables the doctor to see what is happening inside the body in real time as it can be used whilst procedures are being carried out. 

Functional disorder
These are things that go wrong when the muscles and the nerves supplying the muscles are not working properly.  Another word that may describe a functional disorder is a motility disturbance.




Gall Bladder                    
A sac that is joined to the bile duct by a short pipe called the cystic duct.  The bile duct takes a steady trickle of bile from the liver down to the first part of the small intestine known as the duodenum.  One of the main actions of bile is to act like soap and transform fat into a solution in the intestine so that it can be more easily digested, in other words, broken up into tiny little particles that can be absorbed through the gut wall into the blood stream.  When fat reaches the duodenum a hormone called cholecystokinin is released and travels by the blood stream to the gall bladder and causes the muscle in the gall bladder wall to contract.  

Some people make sticky bile and this can sediment, particularly in the gall bladder and form sludge or little hard lumps called gallstones.  Commonly gallstones have cholesterol and bilirubin in them.  Sometimes if there are gallstones in the gall bladder, the gall bladder may develop infection known as cholecystitis.  Gallstones can cause severe pain when they pass out through the narrow pipe called the cystic duct into the common bile duct and through the narrow opening at the lower end of the common bile duct called the ampulla of vater.  An ultrasound is a pretty reliable way of checking for gallstones.

There is normally a small amount of gas in the gut and most of us can hear rumbling (borborygmi) at some time as the gas and liquid move down through our intestines. Sometimes we bring up gas through the mouth and this is called belching (eructation).  Gas can also be passed out from the rectum. Sometimes too much gas in the gut can cause a feeling of bloating or the abdomen maybe distended.  Sometimes people think they are full of gas but they are just more sensitive to normal amounts of gas.  Some gas is caused by normal breakdown of food but sometimes belching can be associated with swallowing air.  Sometimes gas may cause problems if it is not able to move normally through the gut.

A surgical operation to remove some or all of the stomach.

Means to do with the stomach.

Gastric juice                   
Secretions from the lining of the stomach that help digest (breakdown) food and kill harmful bacteria that may be swallowed.

Gastric resection            
Gastric resection means to remove - an operation to remove the stomach.

Gastric ulcer                   
An ulcer in the stomach.  This is usually a benign or peptic ulcer but sometimes it may be a malignant ulcer, in other words a gastric cancer.

Gastrin is a chemical substance known as a hormone which is released from the stomach lining after eating and helps cause more acid to be produced from cells in the lining of the upper part of the stomach.

Inflammation of the stomach lining.  The lining of the outside of the body is called skin but the lining of the gut is referred to as mucosa.

Gastro-colic reflex          
When food gets into the stomach this may result in nerves that help control muscle activity in the wall of the gut to cause the muscle in your colon to contract, when this happens you may need to empty your bowel.  This whole process is called a gastro-colic reflex.  

Inflammation of the lining of the stomach and the intestines, commonly due to irritation caused by germs or bacteria that have been eaten in food. 

A doctor who specialises in diagnosing and treating disorders of the digestive system.

The area of medicine concerned with the function and diseases of the gastrointestinal tract or digestive system.

Gastrointestinal tract      
A long muscular pipe that goes all the way from the mouth down to the anus where swallowed food is broken down into tiny particles (digestion) and most of it then travels through the wall of the gut into the blood stream (absorption) where it is taken to the liver for further processing.  The gut is an incredibly complicated and remarkable system and its function is controlled by things such as nerves that cause muscles to contract and glands to secrete liquid into the gut and by chemicals in the blood stream known as hormones that also help control gut function.  The gut has its own large nervous system called the enteric nervous system which interacts with the brain, the central nervous system.  

Gastro-oesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)   
Reflux or flow of gastric contents up in to the oesophagus when the valve called the sphincter muscle between the stomach and the oesophagus does not work properly.  The lining of the oesophagus becomes irritated and inflamed and this is known as oesophagitis. 

Slow emptying of the stomach which may result in feelings of fullness and nausea and bloating after meals.

A technique allowing examination of the stomach lining (see endoscopy).

A common simple sugar known as a monosaccharide.  When two simple sugars are joined together they form a disaccharide.  When glucose and galactose are joined together they form lactose which is known as sugar of milk.  A glucose molecule combined with a fructose molecule makes the disaccharide sucrose, which is the sugar we use commonly to sweeten our tea or coffee.

A sticky glutenous protein found in cereal grains such as wheat, barley and rye.  A sub fraction of gluten known as gliadin can damage the gut lining and lead to a condition known as coeliac disease or coeliac sprue.

Part of the healing process of a wound when there is a heaping up of new tissue on raw and irritated skin surfaces.  This is referred to as granulation tissue.

A specific appearance found under the microscope in some types of inflammation.  Granulomas are sometimes seen in inflammation in tuberculosis.  Special granulomas can be seen in a bowel inflammation known as Crohn’s disease and sometimes lead to the terms granulomatous colitis or granulomatous enteritis to describe Crohn’s disease.

Guaiac test                     
This is one of the occult blood tests in which a tiny amount of faeces rubbed on to a special slide causes a dye to change colour.  In this way tiny amounts of blood that would not be visible to the naked eye can be detected.  It is not a test for cancer.  It is a test to see if there are tiny amounts of blood in the stool.




H2 blockers                 
H2 blockers are medicines that reduce the amount of acid produced in the stomach by blocking some of the messages from the nervous system that would normally tell the stomach to produce more acid.

Vomiting up blood.  This may be red blood or if the blood has been in the stomach for a while the stomach acid will make it go a black colour. 

An operation where haemorrhoids are cut out.  This is often painful for the patient and these days are less common although it may still be needed when haemorrhoids are very large and have been there for a long time.  Fortunately it is usually possible to treat the haemorrhoids much more simply with a procedure known as band ligation.

Haemorrhoids are dilated veins in the anal area.  These can commonly bleed.   Although bleeding from the anus is usually from haemorrhoids, you show consult your doctor to determine the exact cause of bleeding.

Heartburn is an uncomfortable burning feeling in the middle of the chest that typically seems to spread upwards and is caused by stomach acid flowing back in to the oesophagus.  It is a misleading name because it really has nothing to do with heart disease but is a burning feeling that is near the heart which sits in the left side of the chest.  

Helicobacter pylori      
A germ or bacterium that is commonly found in the stomach.  It can cause ulcers in the stomach and especially in the duodenum and it is now realised that this is the commonest cause of these peptic ulcers.  Its significance was first realised by doctors in Western Australia. It was such a revolutionary idea that it took a long time to be generally recognised but it is now widely accepted that ulcers can be permanently cured if treatment with medicines can get rid of the helicobacter from the stomach.  Usually a combination of three medicines is given to get rid of the germ and this is known as triple therapy.

Means related to the liver.  

Means inflammation of the liver.  There are a whole lot of causes of liver inflammation particularly various viral infections. Chemicals such as alcohol can also cause the liver to be inflamed and liver inflammation can be a side effect of various medicines.

A gastroenterologist who specialises in diagnosing and treating liver diseases.

A hereditary disease is a disease that runs in families.  This occurs because an abnormal gene is passed on to the children from one or both parents.

This occurs when part of an internal organ pushes out through an opening in its surrounding tissue.  Sometimes a hernia can occur internally and commonly a hernia occurs when there is a weakness in various parts of the abdominal wall.

The normal hole in the diaphragm which is a muscular petition dividing the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity.  The oesophagus passes down through this hole to join the stomach.

Hiatus hernia              
This occurs when the upper part of the stomach slides up through the hiatus or hole in the diaphragm where the thinner oesophagus usually comes through.  This doesn’t usually cause any symptoms but people with hiatus hernias may be a little more likely to get acid reflux and develop symptoms because of the reflux rather than the hernia.

These are a whole lot of different chemical substances produced in various parts of the body that travel by the blood stream and cause things to happen in other parts of the body when they arrive at what are know as receptor sites.  Along with nerves, hormones help control the function of the gastrointestinal tract.  Various diseases can occur when there are not enough or too many hormones produced.

Hydrochloric acid        
This is an acid produced by parietal cells in the upper stomach and it helps other chemicals in the stomach to breakdown food and kill germs that may be eaten in the food.

Hydrogen breath test  
This is a simple test that can be used to measure various things that could be going wrong in the gastrointestinal tract.  One of the commonest hydrogen breath tests is the lactose breath hydrogen test that is used to check whether someone has not enough of a normal enzyme known as lactase.

A person may have difficulty digesting lactose or sugar of milk and this can lead to a condition known as lactose intolerance causing symptoms such as bloating and diarrhoea.  There are other breath tests apart from hydrogen breath tests and one common breath test is used to check whether treatment with triple therapy has managed to get rid of the helicobacter germ from the stomach in patients with peptic ulceration.




This is inflammation of the lower small bowel known as the ileum.  It is commonly due to Crohn’s disease and usually affects the last part of the small intestine when it is called terminal ileitis.  Sometimes the inflammation can be found in the first part of the large bowel known as the caecum as well and this is referred to as ileo-colitis.

A surgical operation where the ileum is joined to the surface of the abdominal wall.  The ileum is the last part of the small intestine.  It is easy to confuse the word “ileum” with the word “ilium” which refers to a bone in the pelvis.

This is inflammation of the pelvic bone known as the ilium and it usually occurs where the ilium joins on to another bone called the sacrum which is in the lower part of the spine and this condition is called sacro-iliitis.  An interesting connection with gastroenterology is that sacro-iliitis can occur in some people who have inflammatory bowel disease.

In gastroenterology this usually refers to a hard lump of faeces or bowel action that is blocking the rectum.  It can be very difficult to remove and may need to be treated with very powerful laxatives, enemas or even scooped out with a gloved finger.  Impaction like this can occur because of diet, a lack of fluids, or pain killing tablets that might cause constipation.  Sometimes people with impaction can develop what is called spurious diarrhoea.  They are not able to have a normal bowel action but small amounts of liquid bowel motion can pass around the edge of a large hard mass of bowel motion sitting in the middle of the rectum. The treatment in this case is to get rid of the impacted faeces or stool.

Abdominal discomfort after eating food.  It is a vague term and has a similar meaning to dyspepsia.

A reaction of the body to damage, trauma or irritation because of a chemical substance or infection, commonly characterised heat, redness swelling and pain.  Inflammation can occur for a variety of reasons throughout the gastrointestinal tract and also in the liver, bile ducts and pancreas as well as in the peritoneal cavity.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)      
A general term for any disease characterised by inflammation of the bowel.  Examples include ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.  Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhoea, fever, loss of appetite and weight loss.  Inflammatory bowel disease should not be confused with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). 

Inguinal hernia      
This is a common form of hernia causing a lump in the groin and usually part of the intestine has pushed through an opening in the abdominal wall.  Occasionally the intestine can get pinched in the hernia in this can be complicated by things such as interference with its blood supply and blockage to the bowel and an urgent operation may be needed.  

Intestinal flora      
This refers to the living organisms that normally grow quite happily inside the gut and often perform useful functions.  However if normal gut flora travel to where they don’t belong, such as out through a hole in the gut wall they can cause infection and inflammation in the belly or abdominal cavity.  This is called peritonitis.  Peritonitis may occur following a ruptured appendix or a perforated peptic ulcer.

Intestinal mucosa  
The innermost lining of the intestines.

The intestine transfers food and waste products from the stomach to the anus where they are passed as stool, faeces or bowel actions by a process known as defecation.  The long upper part of the intestines have a small diameter and are referred to as the small intestine and the last part of the intestines have a larger diameter and are referred to as the large intestine, large bowel or colon.

In the small intestine food is broken down or digested and then the tiny particles pass through the small intestinal wall into the blood stream in a process known as absorption and are then carried to the liver to be further processed.  The large intestine has more of a storage function for left over waste products which are then passed at convenient intervals.

The first part of the small intestine is known as the duodenum, the jejunum and the ileum.  The first part of the colon is known as the caecum, then the ascending colon, the transverse colon and then the descending colon which passes down through an ‘s’ shaped region called the sigmoid colon into the rectum.  The words ascending, transverse and descending refer to the direction in which the colonic contents are moving.  Things move through the intestines or guts by a process known as peristalsis.  This occurs when muscle running in rings around the intestines, known as circular muscle, contracts in a regular sequential fashion squeezing contents along through the gut.

This means literally into the vein.  An injection given directly into a vein is called an intravenous injection.  Fluids, salts and glucose can be given by intravenous injection.  Intravenous infusions are often given when people are too sick to be able to take food normally, particularly if they have had an operation or have a bowel blockage or lots of vomiting.

Irrigation means to pass a stream of liquid or flush out a cavity or wound, often to enable it to heal more quickly.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Irritable bowel syndrome is a disorder of the intestine that affects motility and causes abdominal pain, bloating and irregular bowel movements (constipation and/or diarrhoea).  It used to be known in the past as spastic colon or colitis or irritable colon.  IBS should not be confused with irritable bowel disease (IBD).  IBS is one of the commonest gastrointestinal disorders. 

This is the damage that occurs to a part of the body when there is interference with blood supply and this can result in death or necrosis of body tissue.

Ischaemic colitis
Inflammation of the colon due to decreased blood supply.  This can result symptoms such as pain and diarrhoea mixed with blood.




This occurs when there is too much of a substance called bilirubin in the blood stream and the skin and particularly the whites of the eyes become a yellow colour.  

The middle part of the small intestine lying between the duodenum and the ileum.  Most of the food that we eat is absorbed in this part of the gut.




An enzyme in the wall of the small intestine that helps breakdown and digest lactose or sugar of milk.

Lactase deficiency     
Some people don’t have enough of the enzyme lactase to digest the sugar lactose and this can cause symptoms when large amounts of the undigested lactose travel to the large intestine where they are fermented by bacteria.  This can result in symptoms such as bloating and diarrhoea.  

A sugar found in milk.  It is called a disaccharide because it consists of two other sugars, glucose and galactose, stuck together.  The enzyme lactase splits the sugar lactose into the two component parts.  The galactose and glucose can then be absorbed in the small intestine.

Lactose intolerance   
Lactase deficiency.

Lactose tolerance test    
This is an old test that was used to confirm lactase deficiency.  Nowadays a lactose breath hydrogen test is used and sometimes duodenal biopsies can be taken at the time of endoscopy and levels of enzymes such as lactase, in the wall of the intestine can thus be directly measured.  

A thin endoscope that is used to examine the abdominal or peritoneal cavity when it is passed through a tiny cut in the abdominal wall.  The advantage of using this procedure is that the tiny cut heals over very quickly with very little pain so people having this procedure can leave hospital quicker.  Sometimes several of these instruments are inserted at the same time to enable operations to be carried out.  Laparoscopes were initially used by gynaecologists but now abdominal surgeons use them for other procedures such as operations to remove the gall bladder (laparoscopic cholecystectomy) and operations to prevent reflux of acid up into the oesophagus from the stomach (laparoscopic fundoplication).

Laparoscopic cholecystectomy  
See laparoscope.

See laparoscope.

A surgical operation in which a large incision is made in the abdominal wall so that the surgeon is able to get his hands inside and move organs around, feel things and remove things such as tumours, untwist twisted bowel and divide adhesions that might be causing bowel blockage.

Large intestine          
This is also known as the large bowel.  It is called large because it has a large diameter, in contrast to the small intestine.  It is the last part of the intestine and it is used particularly as a storage bin for left over waste products.  The first part of the large intestine or colon is known as the caecum and the last part the rectum.

This means washing out and it is used to clean out various hollow organs in the gut such as the stomach or colon.  Sometimes a tube is inserted so that fluid can be washed in and out or sometimes a special drink containing a powerful laxative can be given.  Another word for cleaning out the intestine like this is called a bowel preparation.  An enema is a laxative that is introduced directly into the bowel.  A colonic lavage is carried out by passing a tube into the colon and running in large amounts of liquids which then flush out.  Sometimes various forms of lavage are necessary to clean out the large bowel before a major operation or a colonoscopy or in cases of very severe constipation.  

A medication to treat constipation and evacuate the bowel.  Another term for laxative is a cathartic.

An injury or a wound.  The word is also sometimes used to refer to a lump or a tumour in the body.

A component of dietary fibre.  It is like a naturally occurring form of glue that helps stick plant material together.

A method for breaking up stones such as gallstones or renal stones.  It is sometimes necessary for large stones to be broken up before they can be removed through narrow openings.

This is the largest organ in the body.  It processes the food that is absorbed from the gut and transported by blood vessels to it.  It uses the food products to manufacture other important substances that can be transported to other parts of the body to be used and it can also store substances that can be later broken down to produce energy when it is needed by the body.  It also helps the body to get rid of waste products that can be passed into the bile and then into the intestines via the bile duct and eventually discharged from the body in the faeces.

Liver function tests   
These are biochemical liver tests carried out on blood samples when it is suspected that there could be something wrong with the function of the liver.  Commonly these tests measure the levels of chemical substances known as enzymes that are released into the blood stream from damaged liver cells.  Usually several different enzymes are measured and the pattern of abnormalities found can give important clues as to the disease likely to be causing the abnormalities.

Lower oesophageal sphincter
This is sometimes known as the LES.  It is a thick ring of muscle around the lower oesophagus that relaxes to allow food to go down but then stays closed most of the time to prevent stomach contents from slopping back uphill, a condition known as gastro oesophageal reflux.  When the sphincter muscle doesn’t work properly it may cause gastro oesophageal reflux disease, known as GERD for short.  A common symptom of GERD is a burning sensation in the middle of the chest known as heartburn.

This is a medical term for the open part in the middle of a tube such as in the intestines or the bile ducts and pancreatic duct.




This occurs when food is not able to be broken down or digested and then absorbed, in other words transferred across the intestinal wall into the blood stream.  Malabsorption can lead to problems such as diarrhoea and malnutrition.

This refers to a growth, tumour or neoplasm that has the ability to spread through the body, either directly or by getting into veins or lymphatic channels nearby.  Some tumours are benign and this means that they do not spread although then can cause problems because they may gradually increase in size.  The commonest form of malignant tumour is a carcinoma or cancer.  Some other malignant tumours include melanoma, sarcoma and lymphoma.  All cancers are malignant but not all malignant tumours are cancers.

Mallory Weiss tear
A tear in the lower oesophagus, where it joins onto the stomach, caused by violent vomiting. This will commonly result in vomiting up blood, known as a haematemesis.

A test that measures pressures in the gut and tells us indirectly how strongly the muscle in the gut wall is squeezing or contracting.

Just as human beings grow from children to adults so to do cells inside the body become fully developed or matured with the passage of time.

Meckel’s diverticulum      
This occurs when you are born with an abnormal small sac protruding from the ileum.  This may occasionally cause problems such as bleeding into the gut.

A very enlarged colon.  It can sometimes happen in people with very severe prolonged constipation and it may also happen in infants with a condition known as Hirschsprung’s Disease where the large bowel does not empty properly.

Treatment with a vitamin dose that is much bigger than is normally needed.

Black sticky foul smelling bowel motions or stools caused by bleeding into the gut.  Melaena is usually caused by bleeding high up in the gut.  Bleeding lower down in the gut usually causes red blood to appear in the bowel motion or stool (haematochezia).

Ménétrier’s disease
This is a rare condition affecting the stomach in which the ridges or folds in the stomach lining are enlarged and abnormal amounts of fluid can seep into the stomach.

This is a general term that refers to the various chemical reactions that occur within living cells in the body.

The spread of a cancer from its original or primary site to another part of the body.  Malignant tumours such as cancers may spread by direct invasion or via the blood stream or lymphatic system.  Abdominal cancers such as colon cancers or pancreatic cancers commonly spread to the liver, and these are referred to as secondary cancer.

This refers to movement and in the gut the movement is due to coordinated muscle contraction which propels the gut contents forward. This process is called peristalsis.

The lining of the gastrointestinal tract from the mouth to the anus.

Mucous colitis     
This is one of the old fashioned names for Irritable Bowel Syndrome.  Sometimes people with an overactive gut will have not only overactive muscle in the gut wall but increased mucous secretion.  This may be noticed as slime in the bowel motions.

A slippery substance produced by the gut lining or mucosa, which acts as a natural lubricant and also helps protect the gut lining.




Feeling of the need to vomit.

Nissen fundoplication      
An operation named after Dr Nissen. The top part or fundus of the stomach is partly wrapped around the lower oesophagus and stitched in place with the aim of trying to reproduce the function of the cardio-oesophageal sphincter when it is not working properly and causing symptoms such as heartburn and reflux.  

Nocturnal pain      
Pain occurring during the night.

Non ulcer dyspepsia
Upper abdominal pain suggesting a peptic ulcer but with no evidence of ulcer found at endoscopy.

Norwalk agent      
This is a virus that may cause gastroenteritis, particularly in children.




A blockage - such as a blockage of the intestine.  This could be due to a range of conditions such as narrowing because of scar tissue or a tumour growing and blocking the intestine.  It can result in symptoms such as pain and distension of the abdomen and vomiting.  Other pipes in the body may also be blocked, such as blood vessels or the bile duct draining bile from the liver into the duodenum.

Occult bleeding      
Occult means hidden.  Occult bleeding commonly refers to the loss of small amounts of blood in stools.  The blood may not be visible to the naked eye but chemical or immunological testing may show that there are abnormal amounts of blood present.  This form of testing is known as Faecal Occult Blood Testing (FOBT).  

Inflammation of the lining of the oesophagus commonly resulting in a burning pain in the middle of the chest known as heartburn.  

The food pipe or gullet leading from the mouth down to the stomach.

Oral cholecystogram       
This is a gall bladder x-ray which involves taking some tablets first.  It checks the function of the gall bladder as well as for the presence of things such as gallstones.  The test is less common nowadays as patients with suspected gall bladder disease usually have an ultrasound examination.

This refers to a surgical operation in which a new body opening is made.  It usually refers to an opening in the wall of the abdomen where the bowel is joined to the abdominal wall.  When the lower part of the small bowel is used the operation is called an ileostomy and when the large bowel or colon is used the operation is called a colostomy.  The bowel contents drain into a bag that is attached to the abdominal wall.  Often the operation is done as a temporary measure.  The opening in the abdominal wall is called a stoma and there are specially trained nurses who can help patients having ostomies and they are called stomal therapists.




A gland in the upper abdomen that makes pancreatic juice containing enzymes that drain into the duodenum via the pancreatic duct and help digest food.  The hormone insulin is also made in the pancreas.

Inflammation of the pancreas.  This may cause very severe abdominal pain.  If pancreatitis is suspected it can often be confirmed with a simple blood test to check for the level of enzymes such as amylase or lipase in the blood.

This looks like a little nipple in the duodenum and it is where the pancreatic duct and the bile ducts drain into the duodenum.  It is commonly referred to as the papilla of vater named after the doctor who first wrote about it many years ago.

Parietal cells                     
These are cells found in the wall of the upper stomach and they produce stomach acid which is hydrochloric acid.

One of the many kinds of dietary fibre.

An enzyme produced in the stomach that helps digest protein in the diet.

This adjective relates to pepsin which is involved in digestion and which is found in the stomach and duodenum.

Peptic ulcer                       
An ulcer or break in the lining of the oesophagus, stomach or duodenum.  Peptic ulcers are not malignant but occasionally ulcers can be malignant and are usually due to a growth or tumour known as a cancer.  Depending on where the ulcer is, it can be referred to as an oesophageal ulcer or gastric ulcer (and ulcer in the stomach) or a duodenal ulcer.

Percutaneous transhepatic cholangiogram    
A test in which an x-ray specialist (radiologist) injects a dye through a needle into one of the ducts in the liver that carries bile to the duodenum.  Once the dye has been injected x-rays are taken.

Perforated ulcer
This is an ulcer that has extended through the wall of the stomach or duodenum allowing the gut contents to leak through into the peritoneal cavity.  

This is an abnormal hole in the wall of a hollow organ.

An adjective referring to the area around the anus.

The area between the thighs extending from the anus to the external genitals.  The word perineal is the adjective referring to something occurring in this area such as a perineal abscess or perineal fistula.

Progressive wave like muscle contractions that move the contents of the gut forwards.

The lining of the abdominal cavity.

Inflammation of the lining of the abdominal cavity.

Peutz-jeghers syndrome
An inherited disorder in which polyps grow in the intestine and there are pigmented freckle-like spots found around the lips.

This is found in the back of the mouth and both air from the nose and food from the mouth pass through it on their way to the lungs and the gut.

Tissue bulging from the surface of an organ.  Polyps can be found throughout the gut.  Sometimes there can be lots of polyps and this condition is referred to as polyposis.  Certain polyps that occur in the colon, can develop into cancers.

These are carbohydrates in the diet that are broken down into simple sugars during the process of digestion of food.

Portal hypertension           
Abnormally high pressure in the portal vein that takes blood from the gut to the liver.  This commonly occurs in people who have scarring in the liver known as cirrhosis.  People with portal hypertension may get swollen up veins in the oesophagus known as oesophageal varices and these may bleed.

Portal vein                        
This is the large vein that takes blood from the gut to the liver.  This is the way in that the food you eat, digest and absorb is taken to the liver to be used to give you energy and to make into things that your body needs to function.

Porto systemic shunt        
This is an operation used to treat people who have portal hypertension and who may have developed bleeding from oesophageal varices.  The blood that is not able to easily pass through the scarred cirrhotic liver is allowed to bypass the liver because the portal vein is joined on to another vein such as the inferior vena cava and thus is shunted passed the liver or bypasses the liver.  

This results in a lowering of the dangerously high pressure in the portal vein and reduces the risk of bleeding.  There are other methods that may sometimes be used to stop bleeding in this situation such as banding oesophageal varices or a shunt procedure carried out by radiologists and known as a tipss procedure.

Post cholecystectomy syndrome
This refers to symptoms that may continue to worry someone who has had a cholecystectomy (removal of the gall bladder).

Postgastrectomy syndrome
People who have had part of their stomach removed may have various symptoms.  Fortunately these sorts of operations are needed much more rarely these days because we have available to us much better treatments for peptic ulceration.  One form of postgastrectomy syndrome is referred to as dumping syndrome.

Post vagotomy syndrome  
This is another condition that is rarely seen nowadays.  Previously one of the ways to treat patients with peptic ulcers was to cut the vagus nerve which stimulates the parietal cells in the upper stomach to produce acid.  The problem with this was that the vagus nerve also has other functions in the gut and cutting the vagus nerve can lead to problems such as diarrhoea, known as post vagotomy diarrhoea and delayed emptying of the stomach.  To overcome the problem with delayed emptying procedures, gastroenterostomy or pyloroplasty were carried out.

Primary biliary cirrhosis     
This is a rare form of chronic liver inflammation sometimes referred to as PBC.

Primary sclerosing             
This is another rare cause of liver inflammation.  It usually occurs in people with ulcerative colitis.  It is sometimes referred to as PSC.

Proctalgia fugax
This is a severe pain in the rectum caused by spasm of muscle in the rectal wall.  Fugax is the Latin word for fleeting because the pain does not last for a long time.  The ending - 'algia' refers to pain and the word 'proct' refers to the rectum.  Other words ending in 'algia' are myalgia (pain in the muscles) and arthralgia (pain in the joints).

This is an operation to remove the rectum.  The ending - 'ectomy' means to remove so cholecystectomy (remove the gall bladder) and appendicectomy (remove the appendix).

Inflammation of the rectum.

This is an instrument for inspecting the lining of the rectum for things such as proctitis or haemorrhoids.

The prediction of what is likely to happen to you when you have a disease.

This occurs when an organ slips down from its usual position or when the lining of an organ slips down.  One example of this is prolapsing haemorrhoids.

Proton pump inhibitor
One of a group of drugs that help prevents the stomach from producing acid.  Also sometimes known as acid pump inhibitors. These drugs are commonly used in treating gastro-oesophageal reflux disease.

Next to or nearest to a point of reference.  

Pruritis ani                        
Itching near the anus.  This is a common condition that people are often embarrassed to talk about.  

Pseudomembranous colitis
An inflammation of the colon which may occur when antibiotics are given and this results in an overgrowth of clostridium difficile bacteria.  These bacteria may produce a toxin which damages bowel lining.  The condition will often get better of its own accord when the antibiotics are ceased.  Sometimes it is necessary to give further antibiotics to kill the clostridium difficile.  

Pyloric sphincter               
A thickening of muscle in the gut wall where the stomach joins on to the duodenum.  Opening and closing of this muscle ring controls the emptying of food from the stomach into the intestine.

Pyloric stenosis                 
A narrowing at the pylorus, commonly due to scarring from chronic peptic ulceration but occasionally due to other causes such as malignancy or a thickening of the muscle in the pyloric sphincter.

A surgical operation to widen the opening between the stomach and duodenum.  This enables the stomach to empty more easily. This operation was commonly done in the past in association with an operation to cut the nerve to the stomach, an operation known as a vagotomy.

The vagus nerve helps stimulate the stomach to produce more acid and the operation was done to reduce acid secretion and thus help treat patients with peptic ulcers. These days’ vagotomy and pyloroplasty is rarely necessary because there are better ways to treat peptic ulcers, usually by getting rid of the helicobacter pylori germ from the stomach.

Small opening at the bottom end of the stomach where it joins on to the duodenum, which is the first part of the small intestine.




Radiation colitis  
Damage to the colon from radiation therapy.

Radiation enteritis 
Damage to the small bowel resulting from radiation therapy.

This is a test using a tiny amount of radioactive isotope.  Various scans are done and they can be helpful in determining things such as the rate of gastric emptying or passage of food through the whole of the intestine and also to determine the site of bleeding into the gut and to give information about abnormalities in the liver.  Sometimes this form of test is referred to as scintigraphy.

This is one of a group of drugs known as H2 blockers or Histamine 2 Receptor Antagonists.  The Histamine 2 Receptor is one of the things that causes increased acid production by parietal cells in the upper part of the stomach.  If these receptors are blocked by a drug such as ranitidine the gastric acid output is decreased and this can be helpful in treating various gastrointestinal diseases.

Rectal manometry 
A specialised test in which a thin tube is passed into the rectum and pressures in the rectum caused by contraction of muscles in the rectal wall are measured.  This can be useful in diagnosing and treating people with problems of defecation.

Rectal prolapse   
A condition in which some of the last part of the intestine, the rectum, protrudes or prolapses or comes down through the anus.

The lower end of the large intestine about 20cms in length, that stores solid waste or stool until it is convenient for it to be passed from the body out through the anus in a process known as defecation, passing a stool or having a bowel action.

Rectus abdominus 
These are two abdominal wall muscles running from the lower ribs to the pelvic bones on either side of the midline.

Reflux / reflux oesophagitis      
A backward flow or regurgitation such as gastro-oesophageal reflux when acid containing stomach contents wash back up into the oesophagus causing irritation of the oesophageal lining.  This causes a burning sensation known as heartburn.  

Regional enteritis
A form of bowel inflammation known as Crohn’s disease affecting the small intestine.

The backward flow of gastric juice or solid food or gas from the stomach up via the oesophagus as far as the mouth.

Flare up of activity of a chronic disease such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or peptic ulcer.  When the disease settles down and things go back to normal the medical jargon is to refer to the disease as being in remission.  There are several chronic gastrointestinal diseases that can go through a cycle of relapses and remissions, sometimes as a result of treatment but sometimes spontaneously.  

This is the period after a chronic disease remits when the disease has become inactive and is causing no symptoms.

This is a surgical operation in which something is removed.  The thing that has been removed, such as a portion of intestine or a tumour is said to have been resected.

Vomiting when there is nothing left to come up.  This is sometimes referred to as dry retching or dry vomiting.

The act of pulling something back.  It commonly refers to what is done by an assistant during a surgical operation when part of the abdominal contents are drawn back to allow the surgeon to get a better view and access to the abdominal contents.  Usually a metal device called a retractor is used to help in this situation.

A tear or a break of an organ or tissue.




This is a drug that is commonly used to control inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis. Once the disease is under control it is in remission.  The drug is also useful in what is known as maintenance therapy.  This means that the drug is continued long-term to maintain the remission of the disease and prevent it flaring up again or relapsing.  

A fluid produced in the mouth by the salivary glands that provide natural lubrication so that food is more easily swallowed and saliva also contains some digestive enzymes which are mixed with the food as it is chewed.

A germ or bacterium that is responsible for some cases of gastroenteritis.  The germ may be cultured or grown from a small specimen of the stool by a pathologist known as a microbiologist or bacteriologist.

Schatzki's ring          
This is a thin narrowing found in the lower oesophagus in some people who find that intermittently they have swallowed solid food.   This can be painful and occasionally they need to have an endoscopy to have the food removed.  They don’t have problems swallowing liquids.  Sometimes a procedure known as dilation where the lower oesophagus is stretched up by carefully passing a thick instrument known as a dilator can help relieve the problem.  

This is another word for a radio isotopic scan.

This is a method of controlling bleeding from a blood vessel into the gut.  A needle on the end of a fine plastic tube is passed through an endoscope and an injection of a special irritating fluid is made into or near the bleeding blood vessel to stop the bleeding.  It is also used to try to prevent bleeding from peptic ulcers and nowadays this is usually followed by the application of heat energy with a special probe to further seal the bleeding point in the blood vessel involved.

This is checking for the presence of a disease before any symptoms have occurred.  Screening is commonly done to detect colorectal cancer or polyps which could later turn into cancers. This can be done by looking for tiny amounts of blood in the stool using chemical or immunological tests.

The blood is hidden or occult.  These tests are called Faecal Occult Blood Tests (FOBT).  

This is a hormone produced in the duodenum and it travels via the blood stream to stimulate other organs such as the stomach, liver and pancreas.

This is another germ or bacterium that can cause gastroenteritis.  It causes a condition known as bacillary dysentery.  

Short bowel syndrome    
If you need to have a lot of your small intestine removed then you can run into problems absorbing nutrients from your food and you can also develop severe diarrhoea.

Sigmoid colon           
This is the distal or lower S-shaped part of the left side of the colon that joins on to the rectum.

An instrument for examining the rectum and sigmoid colon.  The examination is known as a sigmoidoscopy.  The instrument used may be a stiff or rigid pipe known as a rigid sigmoidoscope.  In the past these rigid sigmoidoscopes were made of metal but commonly these days disposable plastic sigmoidoscopes are used.  A flexible fibre sigmoidoscope may also be used and this can be passed higher up into the bowel than the rigid sigmoidoscope.

Silent gallstones       
These are gallstones that do not yet cause any symptoms. They may never cause symptoms and just because you have gallstones you don’t automatically have to have the gall bladder removed. They may be detected if they show up on a plain abdominal x-ray, on an upper abdominal ultrasound or even may be felt by your surgeon when he examines your gall bladder during an operation.  

Small bowel enema   
This is a diagnostic radiological procedure in which a fine tube is passed through the nose or mouth by the radiologist down through the oesophagus and stomach into the duodenum and then barium is injected into the small bowel and a series of x-rays are taken.  The barium may be swallowed rather than introduced via a tube and this is known as a small bowel series.

In the past when a barium meal examination was more commonly carried out the procedure was sometimes combined with what was called a follow through examination. In this case the main purpose of the examination was to look at the oesophagus, stomach and duodenum but delayed films were taken to see if any further information could be obtained after barium had passed further down into the intestine.  If it is important to obtain information about the small intestine it is more reliable to concentrate on this part of the examination with a specific small bowel enema or small bowel series.  The test may be done looking for conditions such as Crohn’s disease, intestinal lymphoma or small bowel tumours.  Tumours occur much more commonly in the colon than in the small bowel.

Small Intestine         
Although most people don’t know much about their small intestine it is very important because it is where most digestion and absorption of food occurs.  It is the longest part of the intestine and lies between the stomach and the colon.  It is divided into the duodenum, the jejunum and the ileum.  There is a sphincter known as the ileo-caecal valve where the ileum joins on to the first part of the large intestinal colon known as the caecum.

An excessive muscle contraction.  If this occurs in the wall of the intestine it may result in symptoms such as diarrhoea and cramping pain.

Spastic colon            
An old word for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).  It describes the cramping pain that some people with irritable bowel notice.

A thick muscle ring that opens and closes a passage in the body such as at the cardio-oesophageal valve, the pyloric sphincter or the ileo-caecal valve.  A sphincter may also close a natural body opening such as the anal sphincter where the contents from the rectum pass out through the anus.

Sphincter of Oddi      
The bile duct and the pancreatic duct join together just where they pass into the duodenum. The thick band of muscle in a ring around these openings is named after the doctor who described it many years ago.  Rarely this sphincter may contract inappropriately and too vigorously causing a condition known a biliary dyskinesia.  This can cause pain like the pain sometimes seen in people with gallstones.

This organ has several functions.  It helps break down and get rid of old red blood cells and it is also a site where white blood cells are made.  It is found in the upper abdomen on the left side.  

Splenic flexure syndrome
This is commonly a variety of irritable bowel in which pain is felt in the upper abdomen on the left side which is where the transverse colon becomes the descending colon and this bend is known as splenic flexure because it is near the spleen.  The bend on the other side is known as the hepatic flexure because it is near the liver and the Latin word for liver hepar.  The pain in splenic flexure syndrome is due either to spasm of the colon muscle in the region, distension, stretching of the colon upstream or proximal because of accumulation of wind due to the gaseous distension.

A condition in which there is too much fat in the stool.  This occurs because fat in the diet is not able to be absorbed properly.  When you have too much fat in your stools they are typically pale, sloppy and foul smelling and you may also have lots of foul smelling gas.  You may have more frequent stools and you may lose weight because you are not absorbing your food properly.

See fatty liver.

The pathological narrowing of a hollow tube such as the gastrointestinal tract or of an opening of the body.  Another word for stenosis is stricture.

A stoma is an artificial opening that is created by a surgeon.  An example is an opening in the abdominal wall where part of the intestine drains through a stoma into a bag. (See ileostomy and colostomy.)

The stomach is a large irregularly shaped sac that is found between the oesophagus and the small intestine.  When you have a big meal most of your food sits in the stomach for a while before it is gradually released through the pylorus into your small intestine so that further digestion can take place and absorption of the meal can begin.

This is one of several terms for the semi solid waste matter that passes out through the anus from the rectum as bowel movements, bowel motions or faeces.  Apart from undigested food faeces contains water, mucous, dead cells that have sloughed off the lining of the intestines, tiny amounts of blood, bacteria and gas.  The normal brown colour of the stool comes from breakdown of chemicals that pass into the intestine in the bile.

Stress Ulcer
A stress ulcer is an acute ulcer in the stomach or duodenum occurring after severe physical injury or surgery, after major extensive burns (Curling’s ulcer) or severe head injuries (Cushing’s ulcer). Cushing and Curling were doctors who described particular varieties of a stress ulcer.  These days drug treatment is commonly given in intensive care units to try to prevent these ulcers from occurring.  

See stenosis.  A common form of stricture is an oesophageal stricture occurring in the lower oesophagus as a complication of severe longstanding reflux oesophagitis.  These days the condition can usually be well treated with endoscopic oesophageal dilatation combined with the use of potent modern drugs to reduce gastric acid production.  Sometimes the oesophageal dilatation needs to be carried out on more than one occasion.

This is a drug that is commonly used to control inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis.  Once the disease is under control it is in remission.  The drug is also useful in what is known as maintenance therapy.  This means that the drug is continued long-term to maintain the remission of the disease and prevent it flaring up again or relapsing.




Violent straining to have a bowel movement.  The bowel lining is so irritated that the sufferer will often keep straining even though there is very little to come out and it is something like dry retching occurring at the upper end of the gut.  Tenesmus may occur with severe inflammation of the lower part of the bowel due to inflammatory bowel disease and it also commonly occurs in people with severe gastroenteritis due to various bacterial infections.

Total parenteral nutrition 
The intravenous infusion of balanced nutrients into a vein.  This form of treatment is used in severely ill or malnourished patients who are unable to take food normally by their gut.  Sometimes food is given directly into a tube passed into the stomach or into the jejunum in special situations.

A chemical substance that has a harmful effect on the body.  

Transverse colon   
The part of the colon that goes across the upper abdomen from the right side to the left side.

Traveller’s diarrhoea       
A form of gastroenteritis seen in travellers.  It may be due to consuming unclean food or drink and it may be due to exposure to bacteria to which the victim does not have natural immunity.

Triple therapy   
Treating the helicobacter pylori germ is difficult but most important in trying to cure peptic ulcers.  It is usually necessary to give a combination of three medications at the same time and this form of treatment is known as triple therapy.

Tropical sprue   
This is a disease with similar pathology to coeliac disease but the cause is not known.  It typically occurs in people who have spent time in the tropics.

This is a swelling, growth or enlargement of body tissue that has no purpose.  It can be a harmless benign lump, or it may be a malignant tumour such as a cancer which has the potential to spread throughout the body.




UBE feeding      
See enteral nutrition.

An open sore where there is a break in the surface of the skin or of the lining of the gut.  The lining of the outside of your body is known as the skin and lining of the inside of your body, such as in your gut is the mucosa.  Thus a gastric ulcer is an ulcer in the gastric mucosa and a duodenal ulcer is an ulcer in the duodenal mucosa. 

A deep ulcer may extend all the way through the wall of the gut and this is known as a ruptured or perforated ulcer.  An ulcer may extend into a nearby organ and this is known as a penetrating ulcer.  Sometimes a large duodenal ulcer can penetrate into the pancreas gland. An ulcer may also cause a break in an artery that is lying under the mucosa and this results in bleeding or haemorrhage, a so called bleeding ulcer.   

Ulcerative colitis
A chronic inflammation of the lining of the colon of unknown cause.

This is a diagnostic test in which sound pulses are sent into the body and a picture is produced using the returning echoes.  It is a painless investigation and quite safe.  It is sometimes called and echo scan.  Using a special type of ultrasound known as a Doppler ultrasound it is possible to tell which way blood is flowing inside a blood vessel.  

Upper GI endoscopy        
This is an endoscopic examination looking into your oesophagus, stomach and duodenum.  It is also referred to as an endoscopy or a panendoscopy.

Upper GI series 
An x-ray examination of the oesophagus, stomach and duodenum.  It is commonly referred to as a barium meal examination. Sometimes when your doctor is concerned about possible oesophageal disease a barium swallow will be ordered and the radiology specialist just concentrates on the oesophagus.  Sometimes if you have trouble with swallowing the radiologist may ask you to swallow a marshmallow along with the barium.  

The reason for this is if the marshmallow gets stuck it will soon dissolve with the heat from your body. Sometimes if you have swallowing difficulties the pictures may be recorded with a video camera so that they can be played back in slow motion for the radiologist to study more carefully.  

Urea breath test
This is a test used to see whether you have helicobacter pylori in your body.  It is particularly useful after you have had triple therapy treatment to see whether the treatment has worked.

Urso deoxycholic acid
This is a drug that has been used in the past for dissolving gallstones although the problem is that the gallstones usually come back again fairly quickly and these days laparoscopic cholecystectomy is almost invariably the preferred option.  Urso deoxycholic acid is also useful in treating a rare chronic liver inflammation known as primary biliary cirrhosis or PBC.




A surgical operation in which the vagus nerve is divided. This is done to reduce the amount of acid that the stomach produces because the vagus nerve is one of the things that takes messages to the stomach to make it produce more acid.  With modern treatments for peptic ulceration a vagotomy is rarely needed these days but it was commonly carried out in the past.

This is a fold in the lining of an organ that prevents fluid from flowing backwards usually in this situation a thickened muscle known as a sphincter is involved and has a similar function.

These are abnormally dilated or stretched up veins due to increased pressure inside the veins. Most people are familiar with varicose veins in the legs but a much more serious condition is the dilated veins in the oesophagus known as oesophageal varices. These can cause very serious and sometimes fatal bleeding. These occur in people who have cirrhosis leading to a condition known as portal hypertension.  The portal vein takes blood containing the absorbed food from the gut to the liver but when the liver contains excessive scar tissue in cirrhosis the veins in the liver are pinched and the pressure in the portal vein goes up and the blood bypasses the liver to go back to the heart.  One of the ways it does this is by dilating other veins and unfortunately some of these veins run just below the lining of the oesophagus and as they become larger and larger they are likely to rupture.  

These are tiny finger like projections on the surface of the small intestine.  They are mechanism for greatly increasing the surface area of the small intestinal lining so that nutrients (digested food) can be more effectively absorbed.

Viral hepatitis        
Inflammation of the liver caused by one of a number of viruses.  

A twisting of the stomach or large intestines. 

Violent release of stomach contents through the mouth.




Watermelon stomach      
In this condition which is due to abnormal blood vessels in the stomach lining the endoscopist sees red stripes in the stomach looking very vaguely like the outside of a watermelon.

Wilson's disease
A very rare inherited disease in which there is too much copper in the liver. Apart from the liver the central nervous system can also be affected.




A dry mouth. The salivary glands don’t make enough saliva.




Zenker's diverticulum      
An out pouching in the upper oesophagus caused by abnormally high pressures in the oesophagus as a result of a sphincter in the upper oesophagus not relaxing properly.  

Zollinger Ellison syndrome
This occurs when excessive amounts of a normal hormone known as gastrin are produced. Gastrin stimulates the stomach to produce acid. Gastrin is normally made in small amounts in the stomach lining but in this condition it is produced by tumours, usually in the pancreas.  It causes very severe problems with peptic ulceration because of very high production of acid by the stomach.  This is one form of peptic ulceration that is not caused by helicobacter pylori. There may be other problems associated in patients with Zollinger Ellison Syndrome which may be part of a condition known as multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN).



email this page

Follow us on

Facebook: BowelCancerAustralia Twitter: bowelcanceraust YouTube: user/BowelCancerAustralia Twibbon: Bowel-Cancer-Australia Bowel Cancer Forum: bowel_cancer Linked In Company: bowel-cancer-australia Google +: 103025231699630785241

Donate for Research

Bowel cancer prevention. Life-extending treatments. Finding a cure for bowel cancer. Help Bowel Cancer Australia continue its research efforts.
Donate Now | 1800 555 494

Fund Advocacy Efforts

Ensuring improved accessed to treatments and screening for all.  Help Bowel Cancer Australia to highlight the needs of patients, loved ones and the community.    
Donate Now | 1800 555 494

Support Patients & Families

Providing support services and resources. Help Bowel Cancer Australia to improve the health and wellbeing of people living with bowel cancer and their loved ones.

Donate Now | 1800 555 494

Real Life Stories

John S' story (65, NSW)


I was diagnosed with stage one bowel cancer at the age of 62. Everything seemed to happen so quickly. I took part in the Rotary Bowelscan program in April and in early June received notification that my test results were positive. I saw my GP on 6 June and she booked a colonoscopy for 7 July. Just four days later I was having an x-ray and CT scan, which revealed a 4cm tumour on my sigmoid colon. By the end of July I had seen a surgeon, who recommended an operation to remove the tumour and outlined my treatment options....

Cris' story (34, QLD)


I was only two years old when I lost my grandmother to bowel cancer. My Grandmother and my Auntie, were both diagnosed at ages 60 and 40 years respectively. By the time my grandmother was diagnosed, the cancer was terminal. My Auntie was checked out for bowel cancer due to the high family history of the disease. I was here in Australia when she was diagnosed with bowel cancer in Brazil. She had the chance to fight it but could not stand the pain caused by the radiotherapy treatments. I was fortunate enough to be able to vis...

Kylie's story (36, QLD)


I had been seeing bright red blood in my stools for between four and six weeks before I saw a doctor.   Because a similar thing had happened after my children (now four and six years old) were born, the experience wasn’t totally unfamiliar to me.  I felt otherwise OK and my energy levels were normal. Nothing felt unusual or different. I had a sigmoidoscopy on my doctor’s orders on 19 April 2010 and they found a growth which they biopsied....

Aly's story (57, VIC)


It’s hard not having control and not knowing what is happening. I first went to my GP in Nov 2011 after a government bowel screen test sent back a positive result for blood in the stools. My GP recommended a colonoscopy, which I had in late February 2012. I was shocked to find out I had rectal cancer. There was no indication and no family history of bowel cancer either....

Eve's story (51, VIC)


I have been a vegetarian for over 30 years, have never smoked and have drank very little alcohol – so to get bowel cancer has been such a rude awakening. I feel I no longer have the security of my health and I worry that the cancer could come back at any time… I first started feeling something was wrong in January 2008. I suffer from many auto immune problems, including Sjogren’s syndrome which causes irritable bowel type symptoms (this threw my GP off the scent and complicated the situation even more)....

Alison's story (46, QLD)


This story is about my mum’s ordeal with bowel cancer. She was diagnosed in 2005 at the age of 73, but her diagnosis had taken some time.  Her rectal bleeding was initially thought to be haemorrhoids, and the GP gave her a cream to treat the condition, but the bleeding persisted and, when she finally had a colonoscopy two months later, they found advanced bowel cancer....

Rick's story (63, NSW)


I was diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer in September 2011 after seeing my GP about a very small amount of blood being present on my toilet paper. ** The GP asked me to get a home testing kit from the chemist, conduct the test and return it to him. The test showed it was a positive result so I was referred to another doctor to conduct a colonoscopy. The colonoscopy took place on September 26 and the results showed two tumours in my large bowel. I was booked in for a CT scan the next day. After the scan my doctor told...

Geoffrey's story (70, NSW)


Six years ago at 64, I began to notice blood in my stool and reported it straight away to my GP, who referred me to a colorectal surgeon.  A colonoscopy revealed cancer and an operation was recommended as my best option. I’d estimate that from the moment I noticed the blood to finally being operated on took no more than six weeks, which isn’t very long to come to terms with the fact of bowel cancer.  I was given an ileostomy during surgery, which also took some getting used to....

Jo's story (45, NSW)


I was diagnosed with bowel cancer at 44 years old.   I went to see my GP after about twelve months of changed bowel habits and intermittent rectal bleeding, which I assumed was caused by haemorrhoids.  The pain I had been experiencing on and off had become quite bad, so I wanted to talk to my GP about other treatment options.  I was given a colonoscopy as part of this visit – and that’s when they discovered the tumour in my rectum....

Warren's story (31, ACT)


I am 31 years old and happily married with two children (3 years and 18 months old) and another little boy on the way, due any time now. I'm an Australian  Federal Police Officer currently attached to the Specialist Response and Security Tactical Response Team. Bowel cancer was the last thing on my mind when I started to experience small amounts of rectal bleeding. ...

Katie's story (35, WA)


My brother Jeff was just 31 when he was diagnosed with bowel cancer. He passed away nearly two years later in June 2013. He left behind his beautiful wife Nicole and two gorgeous daughters, aged six and four. Jeff did not have any symptoms that rang any alarm bells until he started to feel like he had no energy. He looked pale and we urged him to visit his doctor for some blood tests which showed him to be anaemic. He then had a colonoscopy and gastroscopy, which showed up a large doughnut- shaped tumour in his colon....

Joy's story (39, NSW)


In May 2011 Mum began losing weight and starting experiencing pain on the right side of her abdomen. A colonoscopy discovered a large mass and she was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer. She was 66. Mum was treated with surgery and has since had chemotherapy. Sadly three months ago she started finding it difficult to speak. It seemed as though her nerves were not working effectively, causing her to not be able to eat or talk properly. At that point I didn’t have a good feeling about things so we went back to Mum&rsqu...

Ben's story (28, VIC)


I was 28 when I was diagnosed with bowel cancer in January 2011. I’d had rectal bleeding, changed bowel habits and stomach pain for a while but had put off investigating the symptoms – I was living in China at the time so I figured it was either an intestinal infection that I couldn't seem to shake or a reaction to something I’d eaten. ...

Lorraine (50, NSW)


We all need to know that cancer does not discriminate. I am a healthy fit woman, with no history of bowel cancer in my family, yet it affected me. I was diagnosed with bowel cancer at the age of 50 after participating in the National Bowel Cancer Screening program. I received the positive results approximately two weeks after sending the test away....

Mary's story (43, VIC)


Unlike many people, I had severe symptoms for some time before I got my diagnosis. For four weeks during the time of seeing my doctor and being diagnosed I had very bad stomach pains and was completely unable to eat.  My condition continued to deteriorate all the time – the stomach pain came and went, becoming sharper and more intense as time passed, and I was generally very sick. By the end of this 4 week period, I was unable to walk.   During this time I saw four GPs, each of whom had a different opinion...

Brian's story (53, VIC)


I was diagnosed with bowel cancer in May 2011 after experiencing changes to my bowel habits over approximately 2 months, which was followed by abdominal pain.  This led me to my GP who thought the stomach upsets were nothing serious so prescribed a reflux medication and sent me on my way.    I soon returned to my GP after experiencing rectal bleeding, when he then referred me for a faecal occult blood test immediately. ...

Mandi's story (29, NSW )


I was diagnosed with bowel cancer at 24 years old, just before I was due to leave for Europe with a group of girlfriends after finishing university. I had experienced some bleeding from my rectum only one week prior to this time, but at the time I really wasn’t too fussed about getting it looked at because I was so excited about my European adventure, and because of my age....

Rachel's story (40, QLD)


I had noticed some blood in the toilet for about a month but thought it was due to constipation. I was working fulltime and have four children to look after – being so busy I just carried on and didn't dwell on it. One morning, however, I thought I had diarrhoea but all I could see was a lot of old blood in the toilet bowl. I left my husband with the kids at home and took myself straight off to hospital.Staff at the hospital found evidence of bleeding with no obvious cause. The doctor said he would write a referral...

Steve's story (66, NSW)


Three weeks prior to my diagnosis I had been sent a National Bowel Screen Kit. I looked at it and thought, “I should really do that one day”. Needless to say, I left the kit on the bench and three weeks later ended up seeing my GP on a Wednesday afternoon for a prescription. At the time I complained of having had a slight pain in my abdomen. The GP asked to examine my abdomen and it was then he felt a mass....

Brent C's story (64, NSW)


Prior to her diagnosis in 2006, my wife’s concerns about her health were dismissed as a trivial condition because her only symptoms were occasional and very slight rectal bleeding. Each time she raised her concerns with her GP, the GP thought the bleeding was related to other things such as beetroot (we ate a lot of vegetables) or haemorrhoids. However after insisting, her GP finally ordered a colonoscopy which showed my wife had late stage bowel cancer, with metastases in the liver and lungs (stage 4)....

Brent R's story (32, VIC)


I’ve seen the effects of bowel cancer first hand and know I never want to go through it. My Dad was diagnosed with bowel cancer in February 2000. He was just 49 years old. He had had some rectal bleeding and back pain so went to the GP who sent him for a colonoscopy. After this plus scans and blood tests, Dad was diagnosed with bowel cancer which had spread to the liver. He had successful surgery to remove the cancer from the bowel but when the surgeons opened him up to remove the tumour from his liver, they discovere...

Adam's story (25, NSW)


I was diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer two years ago at the age of 23.  I had been experiencing a range of symptoms for about five years, including rectal bleeding, mucous in my stools, diarrhoea, stomach pain and cramps to changes in my bowel habits.    Coincidentally, my mother was also having these problems, so we were both seeing a doctor to try to discover their cause....

Kersti's story (56, NSW)


My story with bowel cancer began in February 2009 but if I’m honest, it began much earlier with symptoms of rectal bleeding and constipation which I didn’t follow up on with my GP. After my mum died, I went through a stage of not looking after myself; just lying on the lounge, eating way too much pizza and drinking excessively. I kept putting my symptoms down to haemorrhoids, bad diet and grief. My constipation was so bad I was twice forced to go to hospital. Scans were done but nothing showed up. On my third vis...

Gillian's story (62, VIC)


I was diagnosed with bowel cancer at 58 years old. I’d had dull stomach pain and occasional bleeding for several months but it wasn’t until I saw a lot of blood in the toilet that I booked an appointment with my GP.  He sent me for a colonoscopy and I was referred to a surgeon within a week. I was very shocked when I was told I had cancer, but I tried to remain positive throughout my treatment and I really think that helped me cope....

Karen's story (45, NSW)


In summary, over the last two years I have had three operations, two colonoscopies, six weeks of chemoadiation, four months of chemotherapy, an ileostomy, a hernia on my bowel surgery scar, gone through instant menopause and had to give up work. However, since going through bowel cancer, all my tests have been clear and my last CT is in September 2013, which will be two years since the operation....

Sandy's story (38, NSW)


Was it not for me having a totally random check-up back in 1999, I would not be alive today.  Still to this day I’m not quite sure what got me to go and have a check up as I was fit and healthy, but what happened next still amazes me. My Gastroenterologist calls me the “luckiest girl in the world” as having that check up saved my life.  Being told at 28 years old that had I not come in for a check-up I would have only had a couple of years to live was a huge wake up call for me.   So to me...

Bobby's story (57, NSW)


My message to anyone out there reading this would be to stay positive and keep moving forward. Despite what I’ve been through I feel better now than I have in a long time. Prior to my diagnosis, I hadn’t been feeling well for some time. A driving holiday to Melbourne prompted me to see a doctor. I was fine sitting down but as soon as I stood up I had to rush to a toilet. Back in Sydney my GP sent me off for blood tests and a CT scan. The results showed my tumour markers were up so things were not looking good. A...

Hazel's story (58, SA)


If you have any irregularities in your bowel movements, don’t ignore it. See your GP straight away and don’t be embarrassed! The whole experience of being diagnosed with bowel cancer has been emotionally devastating for me. In February 2010, I noticed blood in my faeces and made an appointment to see my GP. I’d had bleeding from haemorrhoids before but this was different. I had also been experiencing an urgency to open my bowels for a few years which I had put down to my history of haemorrhoids....

Milly's story (30, VIC)


I believe it is important for all of us to fight to be healthy. After experiencing years of diarrhoea and stomach pain, Mum was diagnosed with bowel cancer at age 55. After a urinary infection that persisted, Mum’s doctor suggested an ultrasound where ‘masses’ were discovered on her bowels. She was then referred for an abdomen scan....

Stacey B's story (29, WA)


I went to my GP in early 2009 complaining of tiredness and lethargy, rectal bleeding and a change in my bowel habits.  But because of my age and the fact that I had recently given birth, I was given only a blood test and told that further investigation wouldn’t be necessary.  The blood test showed low iron levels so my tiredness was put down to that....

Carol's story (63, QLD)


The main symptom that led to my diagnosis of bowel cancer was a change in my bowel habits, which I discussed with my GP. I was referred to a gynaecologist who diagnosed a uterine prolapse, which affects the working of the bowel, and was sent to a physiotherapist who put together an exercise program for me to help with the problem. When I went back to the gynaecologist after 12 months as requested, I was still having bowel problems so he recommended a colonoscopy....

Michelle's story (35, VIC)


It’s not so long ago I went to the GP and told her about a few concerns I had and the symptoms that I was experiencing, which my GP considered not to be a big deal. The GP thought it was possibly haemorrhoids. I decided that I could allow myself to be more relieved, seeing as I had expressed my concerns but the GP had predominantly dismissed it being anything serious…. after all....

Barbara's story (60, NSW)


I had a bowel cancer test in November 2006 which came back all clear, therefore when symptoms started occurring in February 2007 I ignored them, at the age of 57, blamed my new job, the change of lunch hours etc. Initially the symptoms were changes in my bowel habits, rectal bleeding with froth and bubbles. Eventually the symptoms started to get serious, with some stomach pain, a heaviness in the back passage and generally feeling uncomfortable. In September 2007 I couldn’t ignore any of this any longer....

Ann's story (37, ACT)


I was diagnosed with bowel cancer at the age of 37, totally unexpected at such a young age. The only real experience I’d had with the disease was watching my grandfather live with a colostomy bag after the removal of his bowel when I was a child. But I no longer consider this an ‘old man’s disease’....

Cherie's story (24, WA)


I was diagnosed with bowel cancer at the age of 24. Over the period of a few months, I noticed that the urge to go to the toilet was becoming more frequent but I assumed that was because I was pregnant. The other key symptom was severe pain in my tailbone area. I would later find out that this was where the tumour was, though at the time it was also attributed to pregnancy....

Sinead's story (31, NSW)


I was only 26 when I went to my doctor concerned about changes in my bowel habits and feeling very tired. My doctor put it down to stress which frustrated me because I felt I wasn’t being listened to. I went to the ED and remember crying saying, “I know there is something wrong with me”. Coming from a medical background (registered nurse) I demanded to speak with a gastro specialist. The doctor who came along spoke and listened to me as human being, he was empathetic and asked the right questions. He s...

Paula's story (54, WA)


I was diagnosed in 2008 when I was 54. I had been complaining to doctors for years about various symptoms but I was never sent for tests – not even a bowel screen – until I started bleeding from the rectum. I’ve been an athlete for more than 26 years, competing in marathons, triathlons, even an IronMan event. When you run a lot, diarrhoea is quite common, so everyone – including doctors – kept telling me that my various symptoms were the result of an intense training schedule. I knew things wer...

Alan's story (48, WA)


I got my Rotary bowel test kit from a chemist in 2009. The staff was giving them away so I thought I might as well do one. Two weeks later, the results of the test were sent to my GP and they were positive. I was on holiday in New Zealand when I received an email from the surgery asking me to contact my doctor as soon as possible. When I got back, I went straight to my doctor and was told I had bowel cancer....

Hollie's story (24, WA)


Despite experiencing horrible stomach pains and bloating and visiting a few different GPs about my symptoms, I was told I had IBS and female problems. My mother has Crohns so I finally found a GP who would send me for a colonoscopy to test me for this. After being on the waiting list for a while I finally had a colonoscopy in April 2011; however, it had to be abandoned due to the extreme pain I suffered during the procedure. I was scheduled to have another colonoscopy as they had found a polyp during the first procedure. Th...

Eve's story (22, SA)


In 2005 when I was 14, my father was diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer.  Dad was just 38 at the time and given a low chance of surviving five years.  That was eight years ago and he is still with us, happy and healthy today.   Finding out dad had bowel cancer was a complete shock.  Following his diagnosis, he underwent surgery and half of his large intestine was removed.  He then was prescribed Xeloda as chemotherapy and, like most cancer patients, experienced a lot of difficulty with the treatme...

David B's story (65, NSW)


I was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 1993 at the age of 47.  I had taken a Rotary Bowelscan test (FOBT) and, when it returned a positive result in May, my GP referred me to a specialist.  I was given a colonoscopy in June and told I had a 10 per cent chance of having cancer… turns out, I was in that unlucky 10 per cent!  In July I had a bowel resection.  Looking back, it all happened so quickly.   I felt I coped really well with the cancer at the time but I experienced more problems about se...

Kathy's story (47, WA)


During a routine pap smear in August 2011, I mentioned to my doctor that I’d had an uncle who died from bowel cancer at only 51. Immediately the doctor suggested I give a stool sample and, when the results came back positive, a colonoscopy was arranged. A small tumour was found during the procedure, which fortunately was only at stage one. My doctors recommended surgery to remove the tumour as my best option so I went ahead with an operation. No stoma was required. I started chemotherapy after surgery to help minimise...

Damien's story (26, VIC)


When I was first diagnosed with bowel cancer I did not have enough time to feel ‘sad’ or ‘worry’ too much. I am naturally an optimistic person and an ‘action man’. “I can get through this!” I thought to myself. Prior to my diagnosis at age 26, I had been experiencing dull pains in my pelvic area for 3 to 4 years, extending up through to my belly button and around to the right side of my body....

Sharon's story (47, QLD)


My journey with bowel cancer came as a surprise to me, even though I have an extensive family history of the disease due to Lynch Syndrome (a type of inherited cancer of the digestive tract). My mother, brother and uncle have all had bowel cancer and survived to tell the tale. I suppose I thought it wouldn’t happen to me as I have always been healthy, eaten lots of fruit and veggies plus I’m quite a positive person....

Vicki's story (57, NSW)


Some people are known for their sense of humour, some for their compassion, others for their courage.  Anyone who knew bowel cancer victim Vicki Morris will tell you she was all of this and more. Vicki’s husband Peter writes:  Cancer is one of those things that you think happens to someone else and it is a shock when it comes to your own household.  It doesn’t need to be a death sentence, but the odds are difficult to beat. It takes someone exceptional to deal with it as bravely as Vicki did....

Helen's story (65, NSW)


Unlike many people, I had a lot of symptoms before I was diagnosed with bowel cancer.     I saw my doctor many times about the ongoing pains in my stomach, back and bottom and the mucous in my bowel motions but was told I was probably suffering emotional strain or irritable bowel syndrome.     I was given blood tests but they never revealed anything significant.  It felt like doctors gave me the run-around for nearly a year until I finally found one who took me seriously. ...

Ian's story (65, QLD)


“It’s an unusual birthday present, but it is probably the best gift I have received.” Ian, a retired merchant seaman, never thought the simple act of emptying his post box would ultimately save his life. At 65, Ian, like many Australians, was unaware the risk of developing bowel cancer increased with age. He was physically fit and believed he was in good health. As an active fisherman determined to make the most of his retirement, bowel cancer was the last thing on Ian’s mind....

Kym's story (33, VIC)


I was diagnosed with bowel cancer in May 2010 at the age of 31. My bowel habits had started to change about two years before, including small amounts of blood on the toilet paper, but I had been told earlier that I had a haemorrhoid so I thought that might explain the bleeding. I was also diagnosed with anaemia just before I fell pregnant about a year after; I would later learn that anaemia can be an indicator of bowel cancer. It wasn’t until two months after giving birth that I went to see my GP about the bleeding,...

Andrew's story (22, VIC)


In April 2010, I suffered a huge amount of bleeding when I went to the toilet.  I had no warning signs – it just happened out of the blue.  It was so bad that I went straight to the emergency ward at the hospital.  I think they thought it was just haemorrhoids so I was given a DRE (digital rectal examination) and the doctor took some blood and sent me home. ...

Janice's story (29, NSW)


 My father was a fit and healthy man. He ate well, never smoked, almost never drank to excess and played a lot of sports. As a result of old work and football injuries, he suffered from chronic knee and back pain for many years. He also suffered frequent digestive upsets, which he rationalised to be a side-effect of the anti-inflammatory medication he needed to take for his pain....

Lisa's story (41, NSW)


I had rectal bleeding and abdomen pain for a year and a half before finally going back to my GP to tell her I thought the diagnosis of piles was wrong! At one point, there was so much blood and mucous that I thought I had haemorrhaged. My GP finally referred me to another doctor who gave me a colonoscopy in January 2008, where he discovered a tumour and a number of polyps, which were removed....

Jane's story (41, QLD)


In early November 2010 I noticed some weight loss and a change in my bowel habits, including rectal bleeding. I went to the doctor in mid-November and was diagnosed with anaemia and booked in for a colonoscopy later that month. I was told on the day of the colonoscopy that I had bowel cancer. The next step was surgery, a high anterior resection, which was done in mid-December. It all happened so quickly that I didn’t really have time to dwell on what was going on, but it never occurred to me before my diagnosis tha...

Carolyn's story (45, VIC)


When I was diagnosed with stage III bowel cancer in 2006, I was 45 years old. I am a wife and a mother of three (now 23, 20 & 16 years old) and an office manager.  I had no family history of bowel cancer and I led a healthy lifestyle before my diagnosis, although I was told further along the process that I carry the HNPCC gene, which is a strong indicator of the disease. ...

Ella's story (35, ACT)


At the age of 35 I started experiencing rectal bleeding so my GP recommended I have a colonoscopy. The colonoscopy confirmed three growths located within my bowel. After seeing my GP it all happened within weeks, it all seemed so fast yet very professional. After being diagnosed I was required to undergo radiation and chemotherapy. Two weeks before Christmas I commenced my radiation cycle which included trips to radiology every day for 6 weeks and chemotherapy in a tablet form, which included 3 pills, twice a day....

Antonia's story (62, QLD)


I had not been feeling well for a couple of months, tired, lost weight, feeling sick, and then I had 2 episodes of rectal bleeding, the second worse than the first. I went to my GP, after having done some research. I wanted a referral for a colonoscopy. My GP was initially hesitant to refer me on as he thought it was possibly only haemorrhoids, I knew this wasn’t correct. I had blood tests and I was referred to a general surgeon for a colonoscopy. A week after the colonoscopy, the specialist looking after me told...

Felicity's story (38, VIC)


In August 2010 my life changed forever.  Nothing can prepare you for a bowel cancer diagnosis at just 38 years old.   I had been given what I thought was a routine colonoscopy to investigate the cause of my iron deficiency, which my doctor thought was probably due to an ulcer. But as I lay in bed in the recovery room after being told they had found a tumour, I remember thinking: ‘I’m too young.  I have a husband and two young boys.  This can’t be happening to me’.  ...

Chelsea's story (38, WA)


It was very frightening to realise I might die and leave my two small children (aged 1 and 4 at diagnosis) without their mum after being diagnosed with Stage 3 rectal cancer at the age of 37 in April 2012. I noticed occasional rectal bleeding and after about six weeks I went to my GP. She didn’t think it was urgent but recommended a colonoscopy. After a six week wait and a substantial increase in rectal bleeding, the colonoscopy showed a tumour in my mid to low rectum, plus two polyps in my bowel. Over the next few...

Richard (48, NT)


I was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2007. Ironically, I had just given up smoking and was trying to get fit. I was even riding my bike to work for exercise but I was feeling more and more tired. That’s when I knew something was wrong. Three months prior to my diagnosis, I had been experiencing stomach pains and eventually I ended up in the emergency department of hospital.   The doctors there thought I had Crohn’s disease and arranged for me to have a CT scan. That’s when they discovered the tumour....

Moya's story (69, NSW)


In 2007, the government sent out free bowel cancer test kits to a range of people and I did my test as soon as I received it. The results indicated blood in my samples and I was told to see my GP immediately. I wasn't overly worried at this stage because I had seen blood in my stools on and off for some time and had always put this down to taking iron tablets, which can cause dietary problems like constipation.   After my GP appointment, things started to move very quickly, with a colonoscopy, blood tests, i...

Amanda's story (37,WA)


My mum was in her mid to late 40s when she was diagnosed with bowel cancer. She died at the age of 50, when I was 27, 11 years ago this year. Mum had experienced symptoms for some time, starting with bowel upsets, stomach pain and changes in her bowel habits. The doctors suggested it was gastro, then Irritable Bowel Syndrome - you name it, they suggested it. When I look back it felt as though they were fobbing her off. They never suggested looking into what was causing the problems....

Martin's story (60, NSW)


My name is Martin and I’m a happily married father of three and grandfather of one, working as a General Manager in the building industry. I want people to hear my story so that they understand that bowel cancer can happen to anyone at any time. I was sent the bowel screen test kit in 2006. I took the test and the results came back negative. In mid-April 2011, I noticed blood in my stools and thankfully I acted immediately. I am normally a procrastinator, but in this instance I acted swiftly. I saw my GP straightaway...

Stacey's story (35, SA)


My symptoms were fairly vague.  In January 2010 I had one incident of a very upset tummy, I had had slight rectal bleeding for about 8 months but put it down to having haemorrhoids from having had a baby in the past year, and my bowel movements had been more regular. I was actually at the GP in January 2010 about getting my moles checked for cancer when right at the end I mentioned the above symptoms.  My GP who I now thank for my life, said that at my age I should have nothing and immediately referred me to a gas...

Ron's story (60, VIC)


I’d had rectal bleeding and unusual bowel habits for six to eight weeks before going to see my GP in 2008. I was 60 at the time. My GP gave me an internal examination but found nothing. Nonetheless, he was insistent that I see a specialist and made the call while I sat in his surgery, getting me an appointment for the very next day.  I had a colonoscopy within the week and was diagnosed with stage III bowel cancer.  I had a CT scan the next day, then an ultrasound for tumour staging....

Peter F's story (41, NSW)


Buying a $40 FOBT kit is so much cheaper when compared to your life. I was diagnosed with bowel cancer at the age of 40 after finally getting around to using an FOBT kit. I had purchased the kit in June 2012 and it sat in my cupboard until I finally used it in early September. The results came back positive....

Seher's story (30, NSW)


My family was shocked by the news in April 2011 when first told my Dad had bowel cancer. It was difficult to process as my Dad is such a healthy man. Initially my Dad went to his GP to have a check up on his prostate. It was after his assessment that the GP was concerned Dad’s bowel may require further investigation. After discussing his health with his doctor it was apparent Dad had experienced a change in his bowel habits, was anaemic and had noticed gradual weight loss....

Sandra's story (49, SA)


In 2008 I had lap band surgery to help reverse obesity. Since having the surgery, I have had routine blood tests every six months. Prior to one check-up appointment, I noticed a speck of blood in the toilet so during my consultation with my GP (and after she had written a referral for my bariatric specialist) I told her about the blood in the toilet. Straightaway she added this piece of information to the referral just to be sure....

Mary-Anne's story (49, NT)


When I was diagnosed with bowel cancer on 23 June 2011, I didn’t even ask what stage the cancer was at – I just wanted to know what I had to do to fight it. My initial symptoms were rectal bleeding, a change of bowel habit and stomach pain. Eighteen months prior, I had started bleeding and had a colonoscopy which showed nothing. The last colonoscopy five years prior to that had showed a polyp and an unknown growth, neither of which were diagnosed as a cancer. There is no family history of bowel cancer on eith...

Donna's story (45, QLD)


I would recommend for anyone reading this to please listen to your body, take notice of your symptoms and get it followed up with your doctor. We all need to push to get looked at when we think there is a problem, because like me, there probably is.  For a couple of years I had experienced bowel changes, which I mentioned to my GP but I was told my symptoms were related to others things. I was tested for coeliac disease as my brother is a coeliac; however, no further tests were done....

Maureen's story (55, QLD)


When Maureen received a screening kit in the mail just after her 55th birthday, she had no reservations about doing the test. “It was just too simple not to do. The test was hygienic, quick to complete and extremely straight-forward,” she said. Just as well, because ultimately this unusual birthday present saved her life.  When the test returned a positive result, Maureen was not overly concerned as she had read in the accompanying booklet that the presence of blood may be due to conditions other than ca...

Christine's story (54, QLD)


Kim was diagnosed with bowel cancer in June 2012 and passed away on 8th May 2013. We are just coming up to 6 months since his passing and I am here to share his dreadful journey. Kim was being treated for constipation, no bleeding or anything to let us know there was a problem. After 10 days he started vomiting and I took him to the hospital in Brisbane. He spent a week in hospital to clear his bowel, then a big op to remove a large cancer in his bowel that had burst through the bowel wall. He had chemo 24/7 but still h...

Anis' story (72, NSW)


This story is about my father who was diagnosed with bowel cancer three days before Christmas in 2010 and passed away just five weeks later.   Dad was a young 72-year-old – he was healthy and active, ate well, enjoyed long walks, wouldn’t hesitate to climb up on the roof if necessary, and had never even been to hospital – so his diagnosis was a shock. He had lost his appetite and begun to lose weight about a month before his diagnosis but his doctor didn’t think it was a problem; in fact, he th...

Howard's story (52, QLD)


I was diagnosed with bowel cancer in February 2010 at the age of 51.  I was seeing a specialist at Toowoomba Hospital about my renal condition.  He asked if there were any other health problems; I mentioned the blood in my stool, which I had seen off and on for the last six years.  I didn’t think it that important, as I had had ulcerative colitis over the years.  My GP did not think it was a concern.  Also I had recently done a FOBT test as part of the National Bowel Cancer Screening...

Robert's story (61, NSW)


When I was diagnosed with Bowel Cancer I was 61 years old, fit and healthy (at least I thought I was).  I was working in the entertainment industry with a part time job as a spruiker (sales motivator) and also did freelance work in the entertainment industry as a DJ/MC for various events. Approximately 6 years ago, during a prostate check at the local GP, my doctor found a mass on my appendix, protruding into my bowel, fortunately this was benign, however I still required a resection to the right side of my large bowel...

Lynette's story (73, VIC)


I was diagnosed with bowel cancer at 72 – just two weeks shy of my 73rd birthday. I’d experienced a little bit of rectal bleeding, but initially thought it was nothing and would go away. When it didn’t, I visited my GP who recommended a colonoscopy....

Renay's story (41, VIC)


I used to think cancer was the worst thing that had ever happened to me until it became the best thing. This might sound crazy but it is true. I am a wife and mother to a now 6 year old son. I was diagnosed with bowel cancer in May 2011 at the age of 41. I had been suffering from exhaustion, stomach pain and unusual bowel habits for three or four months and finally saw my GP when the pain started getting much worse....

Stephanie's story (21, QLD)


I woke from what was supposed to be a routine, last resort colonoscopy and was advised that my undertaking of this small procedure had saved my life. I was diagnosed with bowel cancer last year in October 2012 at the age of 21....

Eileen's story (50, NSW)


Even though there is a history of bowel cancer in the family, I never thought it would happen to me. My diet had been considerably healthy throughout my life and I had previously used a Rotary Bowelscan kit, which had come back clear. This all changed in July 2007 when I was diagnosed with Dukes stage 3 bowel cancer....

Nicole's story (41, VIC)


My mother passed away with breast cancer when I was 10, so I have always been diligent with screening and looking after my health.  I would go to my doctor on a regular basis to make sure everything was all OK.   In February of this year I had been quite tired, had a lot of back and abdominal pain so I went for a check-up with my GP.  Blood tests taken read an Hb of 72 so I was called immediately to go to hospital for a blood transfusion.  From there I underwent a colonoscopy and gastroscopy to find out...

Lorna's story (56, NSW)


As a registered nurse for over 30 years, I understand the value of good health and pride myself in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. I see my GP every year for routine blood tests and always attend for routine mammogram when requested. However, when the bowel screening test arrived, I put it in a cupboard until I had time....

Vicki S' story (36, QLD)


I was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 1999 at 36 years of age. Twelve months prior to my diagnosis I had visited my GP and raised concerns about weight loss, rectal bleeding, changes in my bowel habit, stomach pain and feeling tired. My GP told me it was stress-related. After numerous visits I felt like I a hypochondriac so I stopped going to the doctor to report the same symptoms and accepted it was stress (even though I didn’t feel it was stress related). I was a single mother with two young children so I told myself...

Stacey B's story (36, WA)


My husband Peter was diagnosed with bowel cancer in June 2012 at age 36. He was referred for a colonoscopy by our GP as he had been experiencing rectal bleeding and a consistent change to his bowel habits. The colonoscopy results found a tumour which was biopsied and confirmed to be cancerous. Peter was then sent for a CT scan and MRI to confirm locations and check for the possibilities of metastasis....

Trevor's story (40, QLD)


Life was quite normal, albeit very busy with a young family and a very time consuming career.  Things changed for me one night when I experienced severe stomach pains after eating a chicken sandwich and immediately self-diagnosed myself with "food poisoning."  The next morning I was severely sick and started to vomit. At this stage I thought I was getting better as I had got it all out of my system....

Helen's story (44, QLD)


My experience with bowel cancer began with a niggly pain, not unlike wind pain, that lasted for about 10 days. I had always suffered with endometriosis so I put the pain down to that. Thankfully my husband encouraged me to go and get checked out. When the doctor examined my tummy it was very painful. The doctor diagnosed me as having a burst appendix and before I knew it, I was flown out from our small town to the nearest teaching hospital. I spent three days there on intravenous antibiotics to reduce what they thought...

Dale's story (49, TAS)


Us men rarely go to doctors, let alone get our proper checks. But I recommend to all other men to please listen to your doctor and do exactly what they tell you. Put your faith and trust in them and you will be managed appropriately. I was diagnosed with Bowel Cancer in 2011. Passing blood made me go to my GP to have a check-up. My GP suggested doing a Digital Rectal Examination and having a colonoscopy....

Monica's story (85, QLD)


My bowel cancer diagnosis was a huge shock. I had been experiencing frequent constipation, a general change in bowel habits and some rectal bleeding, all of which my GP felt needed further investigation. I was referred for a colonoscopy and endoscopy in order to pinpoint the source of the problem....

Russell's story (72, NSW)


Let me introduce you to an insidious silent killer.   My name is Russ and I have been a Rotarian for 42 years.  It was 1996 when I was asked to take on the role of District Chairman for Rotary Bowelscan, a project designed to raise community awareness of bowel cancer and encourage early detection.  With the participation of pharmacies around Australia, Rotary Bowelscan sells test kits designed to detect blood in the stool, which is one of the best early indicators of bowel cancer. ...

Carolina's story (33, NSW)


I was six months pregnant with my first baby when I started experiencing blood in my stool. I talked to my obstetrician, who said that a little bleeding can often happen during pregnancy but that the amount I was experiencing sounded a little suspicious. She referred me to a gastroenterologist and I decided to wait until after my baby was born to book the appointment....

Richard's story (63, NSW)


I successfully beat prostate cancer in 2007 so being diagnosed with bowel cancer so soon after came as a real shock. I did the Rotary bowel cancer test (FOBT) in March 2009 and the results were negative. But later that year, my bowel habits began to change – mainly increased urgency and frequency – and when I twice noticed blood in my stools I decided to take the FOBT again. This time the results were positive.   I was overseas when the results came through in April 2010 so I talked to my GP in Australia...

Margaret's story (50, VIC)


I was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2007 at the age of 50. I had been noticing changes in my bowel habits for some time but it wasn’t until my abdomen was severely distended and I lost the use of my bowels that I was admitted to hospital. I was on holiday in Port Douglas at the time, so I was taken to Mossman Hospital....

Peter's story (62, QLD)


I was first diagnosed with a hernia, which seemed to explain the changes in my bowel habits and the stomach pains I had been experiencing. But in the lead up to the Easter long weekend in 2009, I started feeling pretty unwell. We had family arriving so I didn’t really want to make a fuss – we were meant to be enjoying Good Friday together, after all – but I felt much worse as the day went on and started vomiting....

David G's story (51, NSW)


I was diagnosed with bowel cancer (first stage) at the age of 51 as a result of a routine check-up with my GP. Previously I had no symptoms or warning signs of the cancer. During a check-up with my GP I asked about the Government Screening Kit which I had received but ignored. My GP handed me another kit and recommended I do it. I undertook the stool test which came back positive. My GP recommended I have a colonoscopy as soon as possible - it was booked and undertaken two weeks later. Three weeks later I went in for s...

Gayle's story (53, QLD)


In 2000 I was diagnosed with pneumonia. While I was in hospital the specialist did a cancer marker test which came back really high. However the subsequent colonoscopy was not very clear as the prep had not been very effective. In September 2011 I underwent a second colonoscopy as I was experiencing continual bad diarrhoea. During the procedure a carcinoid tumour was discovered....

John's story (40, QLD)


I started experiencing a change in my bowel habits, stomach pains and rectal bleeding in February 2010 so I saw my GP and was sent for blood tests to investigate the cause of the problems. The results came back normal. However, a month later when the bleeding persisted I was referred for a colonoscopy in mid April. The colonoscopy revealed a 4cm tumour on my sigmoid colon....

Are you at risk?

Both men and women are at risk of developing bowel cancer.  The risk is greater if you -

  • are aged 50 years and over; or
  • have a personal or family history of bowel cancer or polyps; or
  • have had an inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.

There is emerging evidence regarding type 2 diabetes as a potential risk factor for bowel cancer, however further research is required.

Video Gallery



Bowel Cancer Australia publishes a quarterly email Newsletter - highlighting all the latest developments in bowel cancer advocacy, awareness, education, support and research, as well as important services available to bowel cancer patients, loved ones and the community.

To receive all the latest bowel cancer news, sign up to receive our eNewsletter now!



Healthy eating can be a challenge, particularly for bowel cancer patients.  Making things easier and providing practical support is really important to us here at BCA, so check out the helpful high and low fibre recipes, put together by Nutrition Adviser, Teresa.

We also have a range of nutritional resources developed specifically for bowel cancer patients.