Your Health and Well-Being From Community Health Bowel Cancer Awareness Week 1 in 12 Australians will be diagnosed with bowel cancer by age 85. Both men and women are at risk of developing the disease. Bowel cancer claims 80 lives every week in Australia. Bowel cancer is curable if detected and treated early. Over 50? Family history? Symptoms? Talk to your doctor. Bowel cancer is diagnosed in more than 3,400 Victorians every year. It mostly affects people over 50 years of age but it can happen in younger people. Bowel cancer usually begins in the lining of the colon or rectum. If untreated, it spreads deeper into the wall of the bowel. From there, it can spread to lymph nodes in the area. Later, bowel cancer can spread to the liver or lungs. The most common symptoms of bowel cancer are: blood or mucus in the faeces; an unexpected change in bowel habit (for example, diarrhoea or constipation for no obvious reason); general discomfort in the abdomen (feelings of bloating, fullness and/or cramps); constant tiredness; weakness and paleness. The risk factors include: getting older – bowel cancer more commonly affects people over the age of 50; having a personal or strong family history of bowel cancer; having ulcerative colitis (inflamed colon lining) for more than eight to 10 years. In the early stages, bowel cancer often causes no symptoms. People at relatively high risk of bowel cancer can arrange with their doctor to have regular tests to check that everything is OK. You can help to reduce your risk of bowel cancer by eating a healthy diet, including plenty of vegetables and fruit and only small amounts of animal fat; maintaining a healthy body weight; exercising regularly and not smoking. Bowel cancer screening is now accessible to all Victorians over 50. The screening test that is used is called the faecal occult blood test (FOBT). This is a simple test for the early signs of bowel cancer. It involves taking tiny samples from two or three bowel motions using a test kit. The samples are collected at home and then sent to a laboratory for testing. To find out more, contact The Cancer Council Helpline on 131 120. (Information from www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au) Community Health at Yea Hospital – phone 5736 0400 and at Alexandra Hospital – phone 5772 0800 “Your Health and Well-Being” articles are available on www.humehealth.com.au/alexandra and www.yeahospital.org.au.