Tests for bowel cancer can enable early detection and successful treatment. Besides, early diagnosis through tests for bowel cancer also ensures treatment procedures that are less invasive.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare*, in 2015, approximately 17,000 new cases of bowel cancer were diagnosed in Australia that year, that is 62 cases per 100,000 (or 73 per 100,000 men and 52 per 100,000 women). It is the second most prevalent form of cancer in Australia and it is more common in people over 50 years of age.
Bowel cancer, also known as “Colorectal Cancer”, can develop in either of the two main parts - the colon and the rectum.
In most cases, bowel cancer develops as a malignant growth in the lining of the large bowel. However, they may also develop from small growths out of the bowel wall lining called polyps. Polyps can also be benign, which implies that they are non-cancerous.
If not detected early, bowel cancer can spread deeper into the bowel wall and to the lymph nodes. They can ultimately spread to other organs in the body like the liver and lungs.
What Causes Bowel Cancer?
Medical science is not entirely certain about the causes of bowel cancer, although certain risk factors have been identified. They include:
- Ageing - Bowel cancer is more common in people over 50 years and by the age of 85, it is highly likely that one in ten men will be diagnosed or in case women, the ratio is one to fifteen.
- Genetically Inherited: This may include inheriting one of two rare genetic disorders - FAP (Familial Adenomatous Polyposis) or Lynch Syndrome
- Having suffered from Ulcerative Colitis (inflammation of the colon) for more than eight years
- Diet and lifestyle - Little or no exercise, smoking, low fiber diet (i.e. little fruit or vegetables), a diet high in red/processed meat, consuming more than two standard alcoholic drinks per day, being overweight are some of the causes.
The symptoms of early stages of bowel cancer are usually subtle. Some of the symptoms associated with bowel cancer include:
- Blood or mucus in the stool (or on toilet paper)
- A change in bowel habits i.e. diarrhea or constipation (where there is no other obvious reason)
- Pain or discomfort in the stomach area
- Feeling weak or looking pale
- Weight loss
- Constant fatigue
Test for Bowel Cancer
There are many tests for bowel cancer that can be used to determine the presence of cancerous growth. The tests that can be employed are:
- FOBT - This stands for Faecal Occult Blood Test and is designed to find the presence of blood in the faeces, which may not be obvious to the naked eye. This test is free for Australians aged 50 years and over. The test kit can be used at home and samples sent for testing
- Rectal examination
- Colonoscopy or Sigmoidoscopy - A Colonoscopy allows a surgeon to inspect the whole length of the large bowel with a camera on the end of a flexible tube and to remove tissue for analysis. A Sigmoidoscopy uses a similar device to check the rectum and the left-hand side of the lower colon
- Barium enema - This type of test can show any swelling or lumps in the colon
- Ultrasound/PET/CT/MRI scans
- Blood testing (to find CEA - Carcinoembryonic Antigen - which is produced in large volumes by some types of cancer cell)
If you notice symptoms of bowel cancer, make sure to consult your doctor without delay. Early diagnosis and prompt treatment are necessary. If you require consultation for treating bowel cancer, please get in touch.
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Dr Raaj Chandra consults at Elgar Hill Medical Suites (Box Hill). To book a consultation, call today on (03) 9895 7100.