Despite bowel cancer mostly affecting people over the age of 50, new evidence has found the rate of younger Australians diagnosed with the cancer is increasing.
Eligible Australians are being urged to participate in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program to reduce the risk of bowel cancer.
The study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention found bowel cancer rates, including colon and rectal cancer, increased from the 1990s until now by up to 9 per cent in people under 50.
The research examined recorded cases of bowel cancer from the past 40 years in Australians aged over 20 and, along with other international studies, noticed a trend of growing bowel cancer rates.
In 2017, bowel cancer was the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia, while 2018 saw Australians having a 1 in 13 chance of being diagnosed with the condition before they turn 85.
While there is no definite reason why bowel cancer rates are increasing in younger Australians, it’s thought contributors could include alcohol consumption, the rise in obesity and an increase in unhealthy lifestyle behaviours.
How to reduce bowel cancer risk
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the most important step to reducing the risk of bowel cancer is to participate in the screening program.
From 2015–16, only 41 per cent of Australians aged 50–74 completed the test, despite it being free, delivered by post and self-administered.
People who notice blood after going to the toilet should also consult with their GP immediately as rectal bleeding is one of the most common symptoms of bowel cancer.
Similar to other types of cancer, a healthy lifestyle including exercise, eating a balanced diet, avoiding smoking and limiting alcohol intake are key contributors to reducing cancer risk.