Doctor and Patient - Bowel Cancer Diagnosis

Bowel cancer

Beating bowel cancer with awareness

Bowel cancer is one of the top five causes of premature death among Australians aged 45-74, and is the seventh leading cause of death among those aged 25-44. Poor diet and a lack of exercise are taking their toll on the health of many Australians and are two factors that increase the risk of bowel cancer, with 1 in 12 Australians developing the condition during their lifetime.

However, the first step to beating bowel cancer is awareness. As more Australians become aware of how their lifestyle is increasing their risk of bowel cancer, they can make changes to improve their overall health and wellbeing. Experts believe that changes in diet and physical activity could reduce the number of bowel cancer cases by up to 75%.

Early detection is critical to the successful treatment of bowel cancer, so it’s essential to undergo regular bowel cancer screening if you’re at risk of suffering from the disease.

Free bowel cancer screening

There are several methods doctors can use to screen for bowel cancer. These include:

  • Colonoscopy. This is the most effective test for bowel cancer and examines the length of the large bowel for any unusual tissue.
  • CT/MRI scan. MRI scans produce cross-sectional pictures of the body and can be used to identify tumours, while CT scans generate 3D images that can be used to examine the bowel.
  • Barium x-ray. This involves using a white liquid that will show any swelling or lumps in the bowel.
  • PET scan. PET stands for positron emission tomography, and this type of scan involves the use of radioactive glucose, which makes cancer cells show up brighter when scanned.
  • Ultrasound. Ultrasounds use sound waves that produce an echo when they encounter a tumour in the bowel.

How to get free bowel cancer screening

While the above methods are used by medical professionals to provide a thorough bowel cancer diagnosis, there’s also a non-invasive way that Australians can test for blood in their faeces at home. This is known as a faecal immunochemical test (FIT) and it’s recommended for all Australians aged 50 to 74.

As part of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, this test is provided free for people aged 50, 55, 60, 64, 65, 70, 72 and 74. Extra age groups will be added to this list in the next few years and by 2020, the FIT will be offered free every second year to all Australians aged 50 to 74.

Once again, it’s worth pointing out that early detection is crucial to the successful treatment of bowel cancer, so Australians have nothing to lose and everything to gain by taking this free test.

Who’s fighting bowel cancer?

Bowel Cancer Australia (BCA) is a community-funded charity that aims to help prevent, detect and manage bowel cancer. Founded in 2000, BCA works with health organisations, government, business networks and volunteers to help save lives and improve the wellbeing of Australians living with bowel cancer.

BCA funds important research into bowel cancer, runs a range of community campaigns to promote awareness of the disease, and provides much-needed support, resources and advocacy for Australians living with bowel cancer and for their relatives and carers.

One example of BCA’s work is Red Apple Day, which takes place during Bowel Cancer Awareness Month and encourages Australians to raise funds for BCA by purchasing a BCA ribbon or participating in a range of apple-themed fundraising activities. Bowel cancer can be prevented, treated and even beaten if detected early, and it’s this important message that Red Apple Day aims to communicate.

For more information on the work and initiatives of BCA, visit the charity’s website. You can also check out the Bowel Cancer Atlas to examine how many Australians are affected by bowel cancer and how where you live can increase your risk of being affected by the disease.

How to beat bowel cancer

The best way to beat bowel cancer is to prevent it entirely, and there are several controllable risk factors that affect your likelihood of suffering from the disease. There are many steps you can take to reduce your bowel cancer risk, including:

  • Quit smoking
  • Limiting your red meat consumption
  • Avoiding processed meats
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Limiting your alcohol consumption
  • Eating high-fibre foods
  • Staying active

For more details on how to prevent Bowel Cancer visit Let's Beat Bowel Cancer prevention list.

However, everyone is still at risk of suffering from bowel cancer, so it’s essential to proactively screen for the condition. As well as the free testing available as part of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, some private health funds are taking steps to tackle bowel cancer. For example, GMHBA allows members to purchase FIT test kits as part of its Bowel Cancer Risk Identification Program.

Treatment options for bowel cancer sufferers vary on a case-by-case basis and include surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and drugs to relieve pain. If bowel cancer has spread to other parts of your body, unfortunately treatment may not be able to cure the disease. However, it’s possible to manage and control the condition for a long period of time, and having an adequate level of health insurance protection in place ensures that you can cover the resulting medical costs.

Find out what health funds can support you

Other important links:

Picture: Shutterstock

Andrew Munro

Andrew writes for finder.com, comparing products, writing guides and looking for new ways to help people make smart decisions. He's a fan of insurance, business news and cryptocurrency.

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