Bowel cancer in younger people (49 years of age or less)

Bowel Cancer Australia

 

Bowel cancer in younger people – the facts

  • 14,962 Australians are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year, 1,313 (or 9%) of whom are under the age of 50.

  • Of the 4,071 Australians who sadly lose their battle with bowel cancer each year, 213 are under the age of 50.

  • Both men and women are at risk of developing bowel cancer, with a split of 50% male and 50% female in the under 50s age bracket.

  • Awareness and action on the following influencers offer the best hope of reducing the number of younger Australians who die each year from bowel cancer:
  • following guidelines for modifiable bowel cancer risk factors such as diet and physical activity;
  • finding out your family's cancer history;
  • knowing the bowel cancer signs and symptoms to look out for;
  • early detection. 

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 younger people need 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 recent, persistent change in bowel habit to looser, more diarrhoea-like motions, going to the toilet more often, or trying to go (i.e. irregularity in someone whose bowels have previously been regular)
  • Blood (either bright red or very dark) in the stool
  • Diarrhoea, constipation, or feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
  • Frequent gas pains, bloating, fullness or cramps
  • Stools that are narrower than usual
  • A lump or mass in your tummy
  • Weight loss for no known reason
  • Persistent, severe abdominal pain, which has come on recently for the first time
  • Feeling very tired
  • 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.
 
Unfortunately, Bowel Cancer Australia regularly receives feedback from younger bowel cancer patients who have initially had their signs and symptoms attributed to haemorrhoids, food intolerances, a normal part of recovery after having a baby or even just a result of a living hectic lifestyle.
 
Although many of the symptoms of bowel cancer are common to multiple health concerns, if you have higher-risk symptoms, please do not accept 'you're too young to have bowel cancer' as an explanation for your symptoms - ask your doctor to be referred for further investigations.
 
 

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 are a younger person and have a family history of bowel cancer, it is advisable to consult your doctor about specific advice regarding bowel cancer screening.
 
 

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 younger people 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 and vegetables, fibre 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.
 
 

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 - as bowel cancer risk rises sharply and progressively from age 50.
 
Younger people wanting to participate in screening can access a bowel cancer screening test through the BowelScreen Australia® program if they choose.
 
BowelScreen Australia® program screening tests can be purchased from participating community pharmacies, online at bowelscreenaustralia.org and over the telephone on 1800 555 494.
 
Regular surveillance may be recommended by a specialist for younger people with a family or personal history of bowel cancer and/or if they are at an increased risk of developing the disease.
 

Bowel Cancer... You're Never Too Young 

Bowel Cancer... You're Never Too Young is the latest advocacy initiative from Bowel Cancer Australia, providing resources uniquely designed for younger people, helping them to better understand their bowel cancer risk and to take appropriate action.
 
Factors like My Genes, My Family, My Health, My Body, My Lifestyle and My Right can all play a contributing role when it comes to bowel cancer in younger people.
 
For further details on the Bowel Cancer... You're Never Too Young initiative visit NeverTooYoung.org.au
 

Peer-to-Peer Support Network and Bowel Cancer Stories 

Bowel Cancer Australia is fortunate to have a very active community of younger bowel cancer patients, survivors and their loved ones.
 
Many young bowel cancer patients say that they can feel quite alone and isolated when first diagnosed with bowel cancer and during their bowel cancer journey.
 
Often because there is a common misconception in the community that bowel cancer only affects older people and also because many of the other bowel cancer patients they encounter during treatment are older.
 
Parents with young children, people just starting out in their career or beginning to 'climb the ranks', singles, university students, newly-weds and those still finding themselves while travelling the world – younger bowel cancer patients can quite often be in a different life stage to those diagnosed at an older age.
 
Having a child diagnosed with bowel cancer can also be very difficult, particularly when that child is a younger person seemingly 'cut down in their prime'.
 
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 younger people and their loved ones

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 prevention and screening, diet and lifestyle, symptoms and family history, or diagnosis and 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 Patient services for younger people.
 

Connect

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

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