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How you can lower your risk of bowel cancer
Katrina Thomas

How you can lower your risk of bowel cancer

Bowel cancer is the second most common cancer in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Bowel cancer is one of the most common cancers in New Zealand.

We urge all New Zealanders aged between 60 and 74 to do the free bowel screening test every two years.

What is bowel cancer?

Bowel cancer is cancer in any part of the large bowel, which includes the colon and rectum. It is sometimes called colorectal cancer.

Like the rest of your body, the bowel is made of tiny "building blocks" called cells.

Bowel cancer begins with the abnormal growth of these cells into lumps or tumours.

 

Types of bowel cancer

Most bowel cancer is adenocarcinoma which starts in the gland cells of the lining of the bowel. 

Rarer types of bowel cancer include:

  • mucinous tumours
  • signet ring
  • squamous cell tumours
  • carcinoid tumours (neuroendocrine tumours)
  • sarcomas (mostly leiomyosarcomas)
  • lymphoma

 

Bowel cancer symptoms

Signs or symptoms of bowel cancer may include

  • Bleeding from your bottom or blood in your poo
  • A recent change in your bowel motions: going to the toilet more often, diarrhoea, constipation or a feeling that your bowel does not empty completely
  • tummy pain, bloating and cramps
  • weight loss for no reason
  • tiredness or weakness (fatigue)
  • low blood count (anaemia)

Early-stage bowel cancer often has no symptoms.

Having these symptoms does not mean you have bowel cancer, but it is important to get any changes checked by your doctor.

 

Tips for talking to your doctor

  • make a list of what you are feeling and how often it happens, including as much detail as possible
  • think about your family/whānau history of cancer and tell your doctor
  • go back to your doctor if you don't feel better, even if tests show you don't have a problem - you can ask for a second opinion if you want one 
  • take a family/whānau member or friend with you to the appointment for support

 

What causes bowel cancer?

Like many types of cancer, we don’t always know why people get bowel cancer, but some things increase your risk.

Risk factors for bowel cancer include:

  • Getting older, most cases are found in people over 50 years old
  • smoking tobacco
  • being overweight or obese
  • drinking alcohol
  • not exercising often 
  • having Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis for more than 10 years
  • history of bowel cancer in your family/whānau
  • rare genetic conditions such as hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) and familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)

 

For more infromation

Go to the Cancer Society website - click here or click on the links below.

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