Recently, I had my eyes opened about bowel cancer.
I was interviewing a woman who was living with the disease. Catherine Ross was diagnosed when she was just 28 years old. When she told me of her surprise at discovering stomach issues she had brushed off for years were actually the symptoms of a serious disease, I couldn’t help thinking I’d have done the exact same thing.
I’ve always considered bowel cancer to be something only older people get; something to be worried about later on in life. But that’s not the case – at all. It’s estimated more than 1000 people aged under 50 die from the disease each year.
To find out what else I might have misunderstood about bowel cancer, I spoke to TerryWhite Chemmart clinical services pharmacist Krystel Tresillian, who knows all about bowel cancer screenings, who needs them and when to have them.
Just how common is bowel cancer?
It’s actually the second most common cause of cancer deaths in Australia, with 80 Australians dying of the disease every week. There are a number of risk factors – and it’s not just limited to age.
“The risk greatly increases over the age of 50, but this does not mean it cannot affect younger people, particularly if there is a family history,” Krystel tells Mamamia. “More than 1300 people under the age of 50 were diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2013 – that’s nine percent of all those diagnosed.
“In Australia, the risk of developing bowel cancer by the age of 75 is around one in every 19 for men and one in every 28 for women, which is one of the highest rates in the world.”
So what puts you most at risk of developing bowel cancer? Well, while young people do develop the disease, being over 50 is still a major risk factor, explains Krystel.
You're also at greater risk if someone in your family has the disease or polyps or if you yourself have a type of inflammatory bowel complication or disease such as Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis or adenomas.
What warning signs do you need to look out for?
Unfortunately, there are often very few warning signs of bowel cancer, which is why screening is so important. According to Krystel, one way to tell is if you've noticed changes in your toilet bowl–like diarrhoea or constipation–and it's lasted more than a few days.