Bowel Cancer

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Cancer of the large bowel is the most common internal cancer in Australia. 1 in 21 Australians will develop bowel cancer. The risk begins at 40 and increases with age.

Cure depends on early detection!

What are polyps?
Polyps are growths in the lining of the bowel. Most are not cancerous but nearly all bowel cancers start as polyps. Most do not cause any symptoms. They may bleed and occasionally cause pain or diarrhoea. Any bowel polyp can develop into cancer so all bowel polyps should be removed.

High Risk
Your risk of bowel cancer increases 3 to 4 times the average if:

  • You have one or more close relatives (mother, father, brother, sister or child) who have had large bowel cancer or polyps.
  • You have had bowel cancer or polyps.
  • You have had extensive inflammation of the bowel for more than 8 years.

Average Risk
Many bowel cancers occur without any high risk factors. There may be no symptoms. There may be a small amount of bleeding which is not easily visible but can be detected with special chemical tests of bowel motions. This should be done annually after the age of 40. This test is not suitable protection if you are in a high risk group or have any symptoms.

for more information on these special chemical test visit:

Danger Signals
Bowel Cancer may present without any symptoms.
Bleeding from the bowel (always look in the toilet bowl) - see your Doctor without delay.
Persistent change in bowel habits - diarrhoea, constipation or pain. There may be other causes but these symptoms should always be investigated.

If you are in a high risk group you should have a colonoscopy once you reach the age of 40 or earlier if you have symptoms, or your relative developed bowel cancer at an early age. Bleeding from the bowel always needs investigation. If you are over 40 your doctor may recommend an annual test for hidden blood

For more information on cancer visit the following websites:

The Cancer Council Victoria

The Gastroenterological Society of Australia


  • Eat less fat
  • Drink less alcohol
  • Eat more high fibre foods such as wholegrain bread and cereals, fruits, vegetables and legumes.


Colonoscopy is a procedure that allows the whole of the large bowel to be examined. Colonoscopy looks directly at the bowel wall and provides accurate detail. In certain cases treatment through the instrument is possible, thereby avoiding an operation.

What happens during the Examination?
Prior to the examination you will be given an injection that will make you drowsy. It is most likely that you will remember nothing about the test.

The colonoscope is a thin, flexible tube that is passed through the back passage and gently manoeuvred along the large bowel. It contains special fibres and a small video camera that allows the doctor to look at the inside of your bowel.

If a polyp needs to be removed, colonoscopy is the safest way of doing so. There is a slight risk of bleeding but it is important that the polyp is removed. Other complications are rare.


Flexible Sigmoidoscopy is a more limited examination of the lower colon usually performed with sedation. However it detects only 50 - 60% of polyps or cancers.

Barium Enema is an X Ray of the bowel which requires similar preparation to a colonoscopy but is less accurate.

Cure depends on early detection!

    Are you at risk?

  • Has a family member had bowel cancer or polyps?
  • Any blood with your bowel motion?
  • Persistent change in bowel habits?
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