Bowel cancer in people aged 50 years and over 

Bowel Cancer Australia

The risk of bowel cancer rises sharpely and progressively from the age of 50, so if you are aged 50 years and over 'doing nothing is not an option' when it comes to bowel cancer.

Bowel cancer is the second most common type of newly diagnosed cancer in Australia, with the majority of those diagnosed at 50 years of age or older. 
 
But the good news is that bowel cancer is preventable, and if detected early can be successfully treated in 90% of cases.
 
So being aware of bowel cancer, and the steps to prevent and detect it early, are paramount in the 50 and over age bracket.

Bowel cancer – the facts 

  • 14,962 Australians are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year, 13,647 (or 91%) of whom are aged 50 years and over.
  • Bowel cancer is Australia’s second biggest cancer killer after lung cancer, claiming the lives of around 4,071 people every year (3,858 aged 50 years and over).
  • Both men and women are at risk of developing bowel cancer, with a split of 55% male and 45% female.
  • Early detection offers the best hope of reducing the number of Australians who die each year from bowel cancer.

Risk statistics by age bracket

The risk of bowel cancer increase with age, as indicated in the table below:
 
30
1 in 7,000
risk of being diagnosed with bowel cancer in the next 5 years
1 in 2,000
risk of being diagnosed with bowel cancer in the next 10 years
1 in 700
risk of being diagnosed with bowel cancer in the next 15 years
1 in 350
risk of being diagnosed with bowel cancer in the next 20 years
40
1 in 1,200
risk of being diagnosed with bowel cancer in the next 5 years
1 in 400
risk of being diagnosed with bowel cancer in the next 10 years
1 in 200
risk of being diagnosed with bowel cancer in the next 15 years
1 in 90
risk of being diagnosed with bowel cancer in the next 20 years
50
1 in 300
risk of being diagnosed with bowel cancer in the next 5 years
1 in 100
risk of being diagnosed with bowel cancer in the next 10 years
1 in 50
risk of being diagnosed with bowel cancer in the next 15 years
1 in 30
risk of being diagnosed with bowel cancer in the next 20 years
60
1 in 100
risk of being diagnosed with bowel cancer in the next 5 years
1 in 50
risk of being diagnosed with bowel cancer in the next 10 years
1 in 30
risk of being diagnosed with bowel cancer in the next 15 years
1 in 20
risk of being diagnosed with bowel cancer in the next 20 years
70
1 in 65
risk of being diagnosed with bowel cancer in the next 5 years
1 in 30
risk of being diagnosed with bowel cancer in the next 10 years
1 in 20
risk of being diagnosed with bowel cancer in the next 15 years
1 in 15
risk of being diagnosed with bowel cancer in the next 20 years
80
1 in 50
risk of being diagnosed with bowel cancer in the next 5 years
1 in 25
risk of being diagnosed with bowel cancer in the next 10 years
 
Note: Absolute risk is the observed or calculated likelihood of the occurrence of an event in a population under study (cf relative risk, which is the ratio of the risk in a particular exposed group to the average risk in the population). Source: AIHW 1996 (NHMRC Clinical Guidelines for the Prevention, Early Detection and Management of Colorectal Cancer)

About bowel cancer - things to be aware of

Bowel Cancer Symptoms

In its early stages bowel cancer often has no obvious symptoms. Some people, however, may experience the following symptoms:
 
  • A change in bowel habit - a recent, persistent change in bowel habit such as looser, more diarrhoea-like movements, constipation  or smaller more frequent bowel movements ( i.e going to the toilet more often, or trying to go - irregularity in someone whose bowels have previously been regular)

  • A change in the appearance of bowel movements - for example narrower stools than usual or mucus in stools

  • Blood in the stool or rectal bleeding - bright red or very dark

  • Frequent gas pains, cramps or a feeling of fullness or bloating in the bowel or rectum

  • A feeling that the bowel has 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 or a lump or mass in your tummy

  • Vomiting
 
If you have any of these symptoms, it does not mean that you have bowel cancer, but it is very important you discuss them with your doctor.


Age

The risk of bowel cancer rises sharpely and progressively from the age of 50.  So if you are aged 50 and over you need to talk to your doctor ASAP about how to minimise your risk of developing bowel cancer.

This may mean screening for bowel cancer by way of a bowel cancer screening test (known as a Faecal Immunochemical Test or FIT) every 1 to 2 years, or a colonoscopy (if you are deemed to be at an above average risk of developing the disease).

People 50 years and over with no family history of bowel cancer and no symptoms should screen for bowel cancer every 1 to 2 years.


Family History

Most people 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 your 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 you have a family history of bowel cancer it is advisable to consult your GP about specific advice regarding bowel cancer screening.

 

Bowel Cancer Screening

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.
 
A positive bowel cancer screening test result does not mean you have bowel cancer, but the cause of the bleeding needs to be investigated (usually via colonoscopy).
 
Screening at least every two years can reduce your risk of dying from bowel cancer by up to 33%.
 
If you're aged 50 years and over talk to you GP or pharmacist about a bowel cancer screening test today.
 
BowelScreen Australia® program screening tests can be purchased from participating community pharmacies, online at bowelsecreenaustralia.org and over the telephone on 1800 555 494.
 

The Australian Government is also phasing in a national screening program across the country (the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program).  In the year people turn 50, 54, 55, 58, 60, 64, 68, 70, 72 and 74 only the Government will send you by mail your free immunochemical screening test.  If you receive a free kit from the Australian Government it is recommended you complete it.

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 all Australian adults 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 & vegetables, 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.
 

Peer-to-Peer Support Network and Bowel Cancer Stories

Bowel Cancer Australia is fortunate to have a very active community of bowel cancer patients, survivors and their loved ones.
 
A diagnosis of bowel cancer can be a huge shock to the person affected and to their immediate family. With many bowel cancer patients saying they find it difficult to talk about their diagnosis and treatment with those around them.
 
The ability to talk with others who know what you are going through can be very helpful, and that is what the Peer-to-Peer Support Network is all about – connecting patients, survivors and loved ones with others in a similar situation.
 
Sharing your story and experiences to raise awareness and help others is also a big part of the Peer-to-Peer Support Network. You can read the Bowel Cancer Stories of many brave young bowel cancer patients and their loved ones on the Bowel Cancer Australia website
 

Support services for bowel cancer patients, their loved ones & the general community

Bowel Cancer Australia's friendly advisory services team are at hand to answer bowel cancer questions large and small.
 
Whether you have a question about risk factors, symptoms, screening, diagnosis or treatment, the charity's Nurse Advisers, Nutrition Adviser and Stomal Therapy Nurse Adviser are available to offer support and advice covering the full bowel cancer spectrum.
 
Ask them a question now at Bowel Cancer Australia Patient Services.
 

Connect

Connect with Bowel Cancer Australia on all your favourite social networks, share your stories and experiences, join with other bowel cancer patients, survivors and their loved ones, and help us spread the bowel cancer awareness message.
 
 

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