Bowel cancer awareness

patient and doctor

Erin Dwyer - Research Dietitian, 19 June 2018

Tomorrow, Wednesday 20th June is Bowel Cancer Awareness day in Australia. The aim of the day is to raise awareness and vitally needed funds to help support research in this area.

Bowel cancer claims over 80 Australian lives every week, and while it is more common in people over the age of 55, bowel cancer is increasingly affecting younger people.

Bowel cancer can be difficult to detect, as the signs and symptoms of disease can be very similar to less harmful conditions such as IBS.

Symptoms common to both IBS and bowel cancer include:

  • Persistent, recent changes in bowel habits – looser stools, constipation or going more regularly. 
  • Changes in shape or look of stools, e.g. narrow stools or mucus
  • Frequent gas and cramps 
  • A feeling of incomplete bowel motions
  • Abdominal pain or swelling 

Symptoms seen with bowel cancer, but not IBS:

  • Blood in stools (may appear light or dark red)
  • Unexplained anaemia (low iron)
  • Rectal or anal pain – lumps
  • A lump or mass in your abdomen

Also, if your IBS symptoms first occurred after the age of 50, your GP may want to run tests to rule our bowel cancer.

If you experience any of the symptoms se symptoms seen with bowel cancer, but not IBS (sometimes called alarm features or red flags), it is really important to get your symptoms checked by your GP. Your GP can run tests to rule out anything more serious, and confirm your diagnosis of IBS. Although it may be tempting, don’t just search for answers online, self-diagnose IBS and/or follow a low FODMAP diet without first seeing your GP about your symptoms.

Preventing bowel cancer - dietary changes

As with many cancers of the digestive tract, good diet and exercise can help to reduce your risk of developing bowel cancer.

Some good dietary strategies include:

  • Increase your intake of wholegrains and dietary fibre (read these blog posts here – will link soluble fibre etc blogs). Fibre keeps the gut working well. 
  • Consume more dairy products (read more tips here). Consuming 400g or dairy products per day has shown to decrease risk of developing bowel cancer by 13% (ref). 
  • Reduce red meat and processed meat consumption. Processed meats have been strongly linked to an increased risk of bowel cancer. Limit red meat to 500g cooked meat per week and avoid foods such as bacon, salami, ham and sausages. 
  • Reduce alcohol consumption. Risk of bowel cancer increases significantly, when 2 or more alcoholic drinks are consumed per day. 

Please remember, the low FODMAP diet is a therapeutic diet designed for those with IBS. Only start a low FODMAP diet if your IBS has been medically diagnosed by a GP or gastroenterologist.

Want to know more about bowel cancer?

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