Bowel cancer and men – the facts
1 in 11 Australian men will develop bowel cancer in their lifetime.
Bowel cancer affects men of all ages - the risk increasing with age.
Around 55% of all Australians diagnosed with bowel cancer are men.
Anything that increases your chance of developing bowel cancer is called a cancer risk factor. Some risk factors can be avoided, but many cannot.
Age, family history, hereditary conditions and personal health history can all influence your bowel cancer risk. These factors cannot be changed and are therefore referred to as non-modifiable.
Bowel cancer and men – the impact
Bowel cancer is Australia’s third leading cause of cancer deaths in men.
More than 8,000 Australian men are diagnosed with the disease each year.
Around 560 (7%) of those men diagnosed with bowel cancer are under the age of 50.
Over 2,300 men die from the disease each year, more than double the National road toll for men.
Bowel cancer and men - prevention
In its early stages bowel cancer often has no obvious symptoms.
It is vitally important to recognise possible bowel cancer symptoms and have them investigated if they persist for more than two weeks.
Not everyone who experiences these symptoms has bowel cancer. Other medical conditions, some foods or medicines can also cause these changes.
Some men, however, may experience the following symptoms:
• a change in bowel habit;
• a change in appearance of bowel movements;
• blood in the stool or rectal bleeding;
• frequent gas pains, cramps, or a feeling of fullness or bloating in the bowel or rectum;
• A feeling that the bowel have not emptied completely after a bowel movement;
• Unexplained anaemia (a low red blood count) causing tiredness, weakness or weight loss;
• Rectal or anal pain or a lump in the rectum or anus;
• Abdominal pain or swelling.
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms for more than two weeks, don’t delay in talking to your doctor about them.
However old you are, you should never be told by your doctor that you are too young to have bowel cancer.
Most men who develop bowel cancer have no family history of the disease.
However, having relatives, especially first degree relatives such as parents, brothers, sisters or children with bowel cancer significantly increases the risk of developing bowel cancer also.
This risk is increased even further in people with a history of bowel cancer in:
• one or more first degree relatives (parents, siblings, children) diagnosed younger than age 55
• two or more first degree relatives (parents, siblings, children) diagnosed at any age
For example, if either of your parents were diagnosed with bowel cancer before age 55, you have a 3 to 6-fold increase in the risk of developing the disease. If two of your close relatives are diagnosed with bowel cancer (at any age), your risk increases by a similar amount.
Your risk of developing bowel cancer doubles if you have one close relative who is diagnosed with the disease aged over 55.
If have a family history of bowel cancer it is advisable to consult your doctor about specific advice regarding bowel cancer surveillance / screening.
Diet & Lifestyle
It is estimated that changes to diet and physical activity could reduce the incidence of bowel cancer by up to 75 per cent so it is important for men to be aware of what they can do to help reduce their risk.
The latest evidence on modifiable risk factors for bowel cancer - including meat, alcohol, fruit and vegetables, fibre and physical activity - has been compiled into a new resource - Bowel Cancer Risk: Diet and Lifestyle - to help more people reduce their risk of this common disease.
Screening & Surveillance
Medical guidelines recommend screening for bowel cancer every 1 to 2 years using a bowel cancer screening test (known as a Faecal Immunochemical Test or FIT) from age 50 - as bowel cancer risk rises sharply and progressively from age 50.
Regular surveillance may be recommended by a specialist for younger people with a family or personal history of bowel cancer and/or if they are at an increased risk of developing the disease.