Why bowel screening is important
Bowel cancer screening can detect cancers at an earlier stage, when treatment can be more successful.
If detected early, up to 90% of bowel cancer can be successfully treated.
Earlier diagnosis also means treatment can be less invasive.
Bowel cancer currently kills more people in NSW than prostate cancer, breast cancer or melanoma, and it accounted for 12.3% of all cancer diagnoses in NSW in 2012.
Despite this, currently only 33% of eligible people in NSW take part in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program—much lower than screening for breast or cervical cancer.
What are the symptoms of bowel cancer?
In addition to participating in bowel cancer screening, there are symptoms that you can look out for to improve your chance of early detection. Symptoms include:
- Bleeding—Blood in the stools (faeces/poo) or bleeding from the rectum.
- Changes in bowel habit—A persistent change in usual bowel habit such as more or less frequent bowel movements (or the feeling of having to go more frequently), or looser (more diarrhoea-like) stools.
- Pain—Abdominal pain, discomfort or bloating. You may also feel a lump or mass in your tummy or pain in the rectum.
It’s important to remember these symptoms are not specific to bowel cancer and could be caused by other conditions, so it is important to see your doctor if you have any concerns.
If you have one or more of the above symptoms it is important to see your doctor, even if you have taken the bowel cancer screening test.
Some bowel cancer symptoms are even more subtle or non-specific, and can include:
- feeling of needing to strain (as if you need to pass a bowel movement) or feeling that the bowel has not emptied completely after passing a bowel movement
- unexplained weight loss
- unexplained tiredness
- feeling light headed (dizziness)
- unexplained anaemia (low red blood cells).
"Bowel cancer hasn’t had as much publicity as some other cancers, which could be why people underestimate it.
We need to correct the gaps in awareness to significantly increase the numbers of people screening and in turn reduce the numbers of people dying from this disease."