Bowel cancer on the rise in Australians under 50

Updated 5 Mar 2019.

Bowel cancer on the rise in Australians under 50

Research finds current national screening process is still best practice

A recent study by our colleagues at Cancer Council NSW has found the incidence of bowel cancer (colon and rectal) is increasing in Australians under the age of 50.

Bowel cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia, with around 17,000 new diagnoses estimated in 2018.

The study found that for people under 50 years, colon cancer incidence rates have increased by up to 9.3% a year from the mid-2000s, while rectal cancer incidence rates have risen by up to 7.1% a year since the early 1990s.

"There are a number of risk factors that could be associated with this rise in new cases of bowel cancer in people under 50, including obesity, alcohol consumption and red and processed meat intake," said Dr Eleonora Feletto, Research Fellow at Cancer Council NSW.

"To reduce overall cancer risk, but especially for bowel cancer, we encourage all Australians to reduce their intake of alcohol and red and processed meat and maintain a healthy weight."

Other lifestyle factors that increase the risk of developing the disease include smoking and lack of physical activity.

A recent complementary Cancer Council study found that screening people 50-74 is still the best approach to reduce the impact of bowel cancer. This second study explored extending the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program to people in their forties, late seventies and early eighties, compared with the current 50 - 74 age group. It concluded that though there may be some benefits in screening people under 50 and over 74, these did not outweigh the associated harms.

Currently in WA, just 43 per cent of 50 - 74 year olds who are sent the kit actually use it. If we could increase that particpation rate to 60 per cent across Australia, 84,000 lives could be saved over the next twenty years.

"As with all cancers, the earlier bowel cancer is found, the greater the chance of successful treatment," our Regional Education Manager Cassandra Clayforth explains. "Screening is very important, because bowel cancer often develops without any early-warning symptoms".

"If you notice bowel cancer symptoms, such as blood in your poo more than once, or runny poo, a change in bowel habits, an unusual pain, lump or swelling in the tummy, unexplained weight loss, tiredness, or loss of appetite for more than four weeks, you need to visit your GP without delay and not participate in screening. Screening is for healthy people without symptoms. In fact, participating in screening when you have symptoms can delay cancer diagnosis and treatment."

To help raise awareness of bowel cancer and increase participation in the screening program, we're offering funding to community groups to host a local event. The funding aims to bring the community together to enjoy a healthy lifestyle activity as well as provide information on bowel cancer screening.

"The more we talk about bowel cancer, the symptoms, and the importance of using the screening kit when you receive it, the more lives we'll save," Ms Clayforth said

More information:
What is bowel cancer?
Early symptoms of bowel cancer 
The National Bowel Cancer Screening program

For cancer information or support, phone our cancer nurses on 13 11 20

Regional Community Grants:
Reduce the bowel cancer risk in your community!

Cancer Council WA is offering grants of up to $200 to community groups in regional WA to raise awareness of bowel cancer.

The Regional Community Grants program aims to reduce the impact of bowel cancer in regional WA by educating the community about bowel cancer risk factors, symptoms and the importance of screening.

For more information, download the information form. To apply, download the application form. Applications are open until 30 April 2019.

If you have any enquiries, don't hesitate to contact Megan at Cancer Council WA:

Megan Campbell
Cancer Smart Project Officer
Cancer Council WA
P: 08 9212 4309



Found in:  News - 2019 | View all news