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Beware of symptoms


Beware of symptoms

Early treatment can be a life-saver for the 300 Australians diagnosed each week with our deadliest form of cancer.

June marks Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, and an important message is being sent out to the community to not ignore symptoms, no matter your age.

Bowel Cancer Australia says bowel cancer is the deadliest form of cancer and the sixth-leading cause of death overall for people aged 25-44.

Sunshine Coast Health surgeon Dr Scott McDonald says it is important that young people understand the risks,
as bowel cancer is not just agenetic disease.

“If you are born after 1990, you have double the risk of colon cancer and four-times the risk of rectal cancer, compared with people born in 1950,” Dr McDonald says.

He says smoking, alcohol, eating excessive amounts of red meat and a higher body mass index (BMI) are all increasing risk factors for developing bowel cancer.

“The symptoms that are common and the symptoms that are commonly ignored, particularly when you’re young, are things like bleeding from the back passage, a change in bowel habits, bloating, cramping, abdominal pain and unexpected weight loss,” he says.

“I guess the other significant factor is because patients often ignore the symptoms at the earlier stages when you’re younger, putting it down to other life factors, it means patients are often presenting later with more advanced stages of the disease which makes it more challenging to treat.”

Further statistics from Bowel Cancer Australia show the proportion of bowel cancer located in the appendix is 85 per cent for people aged 15 to 24.

Aleka Corston presented to the emergency department at Sunshine Coast University Hospital late last year with appendicitis and had to have her appendix removed. The 19-year-old’s pathology then came back as a grade two neuroendocrine tumour.

“I was on (work) placement when I found out there was actually cancer in my appendix, so I had to cut my placement early and then I had the surgery for the bowel, or colon, to be removed,” she says.

Doing this surgery allowed doctors to ensure Ms Corston’s margins were clear.

Six months on, the paramedicine student says she is feeling good.

Ms Corston is grateful her cancer was picked up early and has shared her story to encourage other young people to know the symptoms and seek medical advice.

“It’s always safe to see a doctor,” she says. “If it’s nothing, then that’s the best news. And if it does happen to be something, then you’ve caught it early and you can deal with it early so it doesn’t progress to the next stage.”

Bowel Cancer Awareness Month aims to raise awareness about the disease, with 300 Australians diagnosed every week.

To learn more visit the website at

By the numbers

  • Bowel cancer (also known as colorectal cancer) is the third-most-common type of newly diagnosed cancer in Australia.
  • 15,610 Australians are told they have bowel cancer each year, including 1680 people under the age of 50.
  • Bowel cancer claims the lives of 5354 Australians every year, including 290 people under the age of 50.

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