Colorectal (Bowel) Cancer

What is bowel cancer?

Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is a type of cancer that affects the large intestine. The large intestine is divided into the colon and the rectum, and bowel cancer can occur in either area. Symptoms of bowel cancer include bleeding from the rectum, changes in bowel habits, and abdominal pain.

If left untreated, bowel cancer can spread to other parts of the body, including the liver and lungs. Treatment for bowel cancer usually involves surgery to remove the tumour and maybe chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Early detection is critical for successful treatment, so it is vital to see a doctor if you experience any symptoms of bowel cancer.

Bowel Cancer in Australia

  • Bowel cancer is the third most common type of newly diagnosed cancer.
  • 293 people a week are diagnosed with bowel cancer or 15,206 per year
  • Bowel cancer is the second deadliest cancer in Australia
  • 101 people a week die of bowel cancer, or 5,255 a year
  • The two types of bowel cancer are colon cancer, 69%, and rectal cancer,31 %.

What are the symptoms of bowel cancer?

The symptoms of bowel cancer can vary depending on the individual, but there are some common signs to be aware of. One of the most tell-tale signs is a change in bowel habits, such as persistent diarrhoea or constipation. Other symptoms may include blood in the stool, abdominal pain, and weight loss.

The symptoms of bowel cancer can be remembered using the acronym B.O.W.E.L.

  • Blood in your poo
  • Obvious change in your bowel habits
  • Weight loss you can’t explain
  • Extreme tiredness for no reason
  • Lump or swelling in your abdomen

If you experience any of these symptoms, it is crucial to see a doctor for a proper diagnosis. While some of these symptoms can be caused by other conditions, only a medical professional can rule out bowel cancer. Early detection is critical for successful treatment, so do not hesitate to seek medical help if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.

Bowel cancer risk factors

There are a number of risk factors that can increase your chance of developing bowel cancer, including:

  • Age 50 and over
  • Family history of bowel cancer and polyps
  • Hereditary conditions
  • Existing diseases and illnesses, such as type II diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease
  • Lifestyle factors include smoking, eating an excessive amount of red meat, eating processed meats, drinking alcohol, and being overweight

National Bowel Cancer Screening Program

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program provides home test kits (Faecal Occult Blood Test – FOBT) for people between the ages of 50 and 74 to increase the early detection of bowel cancer. If you have a positive test, your doctor will refer you to a gastroenterologist for a colonoscopy.

Colonoscopy in this setting allow early detection of colonic polyps (growth on the lining of the bowel wall). Some of these polyps may be a precursor to the development of a bowel cancer, therefore by removing them during the procedure can reduce the risk of bowel cancer. Factors such as the size, the number and the nature (histology) of the polyp(s) will determine how often you should have ongoing colonoscopy for surveillance.

Who should do the bowel screening test

Diagnosing Colorectal Cancer


A colonoscopy may be performed to look for signs of blockage or inflammation in your intestines.

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Stool Tests

Stool tests look for blood or infections and are more commonly used when inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is suspected.


A mix of scans, such as computed tomography (CT), ultrasound, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), may be used to identify where the cancer is located.


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Dr Thomas Lee is an expert gastroenterologist who can accurately diagnose your symptoms and provide a treatment plan that helps you get back to doing the things you love.

Further Reading

Cancer Institute NSW

Information about Bowel Cancer Screen programs and initiatives for cancer prevention and early detection.

Bowel Cancer Australia

Information on prevention, early diagnosis, research, treatment and care for anyone affected by bowel cancer.