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.
Other signs might be if you feel like you still need to go to the toilet after you just went or you notice blood in the loo (and it's not that time of the month), if you have persistent cramping or abdominal pain, if you're feeling weak or fatigued or if you've experienced unintended weight loss, it could be worth a visit to your GP.
How do you detect it?
We know that detecting bowel cancer early has a huge impact on survival rates. The good news is if caught early, up to 90 percent of bowel cancers can be successfully treated, says Krystel.
This is where screening comes in. It's an easy way to detect the disease that doesn't involve any invasive procedure. In fact, you can do it at home.
"The bowel cancer screening is done via what we call a faecal occult blood test. So you don’t need to go to pathology, you will just take a sample at home - and you won't need to avoid any foods or medications," Krystel says.
"Then it's posted to a lab, who will conduct the screening and let you know if further testing is needed."
Krystel says that in the past, about seven percent of people who underwent the test were referred for further investigation.
Where can you get a screening kit?
If you're of a certain age, you might qualify for the Government's screening program, where free kits are sent in the mail. Right now, men and women aged 50, 55, 60, 64, 65, 70, 72 and 74 are invited to participate.
And if you're not aged over 50, but are concerned about your risks, you can buy a kit from your local TerryWhite Chemmart pharmacy for $39.95, which includes the cost of the pathology test.
It's a simple way to set your mind at ease and take control of your health. That's always worth making the time and effort for.
Have you or someone you know been touched by bowel cancer? Share your experience with us below.
Find out more about bowel cancer screening on TerryWhite Chemmart's website.
This content was created with thanks to our brand partner TerryWhite Chemmart.
Because your health is our priority, we offer a number of different health services right here in the pharmacy. Our approachable and accessible pharmacists also provide professional assistance for many different health and wellbeing issues. TerryWhite Chemmart, helping to keep you Alive & Well.