Bowel Cancer: Symptoms, Screening and Treatment


June marks the start of Bowel Cancer Awareness month, an initiative of Bowel Cancer Australia, aimed at raising awareness and funding for research of one of the country’s deadliest diseases.

There are 15,000 new cases of bowel cancer reported in Australia each year, and over 5,000 deaths, so we talked to Gastroenterologist & Interventional Endoscopist for Coast Gastroenterology, Dr Griff Walker, to find out more about the risks, symptoms and treatments for this invasive cancer.

The facts

“Our country has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world, with one in 12 Australians developing bowel cancer before the age of 85,” says Dr Walker.

“It accounts for 13% of all invasive cancers diagnosed in Australia, second only to prostate cancer,” he says. But there is good news.

“90% of bowel cancers can be successfully treated if detected early.”

What is bowel cancer?

“Colorectal cancer (CRC), or bowel cancer, develops when cells in the bowel lining grow too quickly, forming a clump known as a polyp or an adenoma,” explains Dr Walker.

“Polyps are usually benign, but can grow for several years before undergoing additional changes and becoming cancerous and spreading to other parts of the body.

“There are a few factors that can increase a person’s risk of bowel cancer including age, weight and poor diet.

“Family history is also an important consideration, with the risk doubling for those who have a parent or sibling with bowel cancer, and quadrupling for those with two close relatives with the disease.”

What are the symptoms?

“In saying that, more than 80 per cent of people who develop bowel cancer do not have a family history of bowel cancer, so it’s essential for everyone to know the symptoms,” says Dr Walker.

“These include bleeding from the rectum, or any sign of blood after a bowel motion, a change in bowel habit (both loose motions or severe constipation), abdominal pain or an unexplained tiredness - which can be a symptom of anaemia.”

What you can do

“There are a few lifestyle and diet changes people can make to help lower the risk of developing bowel cancer,” says Dr Walker.

“Having a healthy diet and exercising regularly is essential, while reducing your alcohol intake and not smoking will also help.

“There is additional evidence that low-dose aspirin may reduce the risk of adenoma formation and bowel cancer, so speak to your doctor if this may apply to you.

“And take part in a screening program, like the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP), with early detection an important element in recovery from this disease.”


“Bowel cancer treatment usually requires surgery, but if the cancer is found early, the chance of a full recovery is high,” says Dr Walker.
“Most people will be able to return to their current lifestyle and activities.”


For more information contact Dr Griff Walker, Gastroenterologist & Interventional Endoscopist for Coast Gastroenterology at Gold Coast Private Hospital, by calling 07 55 746 133 or emailing


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