The delay in seeking help may in part be due to an ongoing, low-level of symptom awareness (55%), which has only shown a minor improvement since 2012 (53%).
“Although bowel cancer is often referred to as the ‘silent killer’ because symptoms may not develop until it has already advanced, there are things that could represent a cause for concern which people should look out for,” said colorectal surgeon and Director of Bowel Cancer Australia, Associate Professor Graham Newstead AM.
"One of the most frequent symptoms is a sudden irregularity in bowel habits and appearance," said A/Prof Newstead.
"Blood in the stool, frequent gas and abdominal pain - especially if severe, unexplained anaemia and a lump or mass in your abdomen are also possible signs there could be something sinister that needs to be investigated," A/Prof Newstead said.
“These symptoms can also be due to other medical conditions, some foods or medicines,” A/Prof Newstead said, “however, if you are experiencing any of the above for more than two weeks, you should see your GP immediately.”
No one should be told their ‘too young to have bowel cancer’
One in four (25%) of the research respondents under 50 indicated they had more than five visits to their GP before being diagnosed.
“Although advancing age is one of the main non-modifiable risk factors, US studies show that bowel cancer is on the rise in people under the age of 50,” said A/Prof Newstead.
More than 1,000 Australians under the age of 50 are diagnosed every year with young-onset (under age 50) bowel cancer.
"Age, hereditary conditions such as Lynch Syndrome (HNPCC) and Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP); family history: and personal health history; can all influence bowel cancer risk and cannot be changed."
They are referred to as non-modifiable risk factors.
“If you have any of these risks, it is important to discuss them and develop a plan with your GP in order to detect bowel cancer early, if it develops,” A/Prof Newstead said.
What you can do
No one knows for sure why a person develops bowel cancer, but everyone should be aware of their risk and where possible, take action to reduce it.
Certain risk factors cannot be changed, but there are diet and lifestyle choices which can assist in reducing your bowel cancer risk.
- Quit smoking.
- Avoid processed meats and limit red meat consumption.
- Avoid weight gain and/or increases in waist circumference.
- If you drink alcohol, limit the amount.
- Eat naturally high-fibre foods.
- By physically active, as part of your everyday life.
- For those who do not have any bowel cancer symptoms, medical guidelines recommend screening using a faecal immunochemical test (FIT) every 1 to 2 years from age 50.
- If you are at an increased risk, speak to your GP about ongoing monitoring
"Prevention is key," A/Prof Newstead said.
"When detected early, nearly 90% of bowel cancer cases are treatable and beatable."
If you are looking for a helpful tool to assist you in improving your lifestyle habits, check out the Bowel Cancer Australia 12-week Nutrition and Lifestyle Challenge.
For a free app full of bowel friendly tips and tools, download the Bowel Cancer App 2.0 available on iTunes and Google Play.
To find out more about bowel cancer, Modifiable and Non-modifiable Risk Factors, Healthy Entertaining and Popular Recipes visit our website.
With specific bowel cancer questions, contact our Bowel Care Nurse Helpline at 1800 555 494.
The 2017 Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late campaign aims to have a lasting impact where no one dies from bowel cancer and all those diagnosed receive the support they need.