June is Bowel Cancer Awareness month. The most important factor to know, is if detected early, a stage one bowel cancer is 99% curable.
Australia runs a government funded National Bowel Screening Program in which faecal immunochemical test (FIT) kits are sent out via mail to individuals aged between 50-74. This is designed to pick up any early asymptomatic colonic cancers or polyps by testing for non-visible blood in the faeces.
In 2021, there was only a 43.5% participation rate in people who received these packs. A FIT kit can be requested from a general practitioner (GP) from age 45 and is the preferred testing method of Bowel Cancer Australia.
If positive, a colonoscopy should be performed within 30 days.
There has been an increase of diagnosis in individuals aged 40-49 in recent years and one in 10 people diagnosed are under 50. Due to this, Bowel Cancer Australia have launched a campaign “Never2Young” to raise awareness around young onset colonic cancer.
Symptoms of bowel cancer that should be investigated include blood in the stool, persistent change in bowel habit, a change in appearance of stools (narrower shape), unexplained anaemia or weight loss and abdominal pain or swelling.
These symptoms may not lead to a bowel cancer diagnosis but should not be ignored.
Checking your bowel actions before flushing is a healthy habit as it will allow you to notice any changes or blood. A GP can refer directly to a colorectal surgeon or gastroenterologist for colonoscopy - you do not need to attend an appointment first.
Only some bowel cancer operations result in a stoma (colostomy or ileostomy bag), and with advances in medical technology, they are less likely than in previous years.
At St John of God Murdoch Hospital, we have two stomal therapy nurses and a colorectal clinical nurse specialist that are part of our bowel cancer team. They are highly qualified and experienced in providing extensive care to patients being treated for bowel cancer.
Red Apple Day
Wednesday 15 June is Red Apple Day. This is an annual giving day where everyone is encouraged to support the Bowel Cancer Australia charity which supports Australians and their families going through Bowel Cancer treatment.
The apple is chosen as the logo to symbolise that if caught early, bowel cancer is very treatable. The apple logo is supposed to be an abstract of the human bowel with a small hole. This represents a hole caused by a worm. If detected early, the worm can be removed and the apple is no longer affected - this is the same for bowel cancer.
For further information on Bowel Cancer, visit https://www.bowelcanceraustralia.org.