Australia has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world. Nearly 17,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year and by 2020, this number is expected to increase to almost 20,000 bowel cancer cases detected annually.
And it’s not just middle-age Australians and the elderly who are at risk. Last year 1,313 people under the age of 50 were diagnosed with bowel cancer, representing 9 per cent of the total number diagnosed.
Having lost a brother and a close woman friend to bowel cancer, Ita Buttrose wants to convince all Australians that the subject of their bowel movements shouldn’t be avoided.
Ms Buttrose says Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related death in Australia, after lung cancer. “It is the second most common cancer after prostate cancer for men and breast cancer for women. However, when detected early, up to 90 per cent of bowel cancers can be successfully treated. So why is that that, every two hours, bowel cancer claims a life – around 80 people every week? It’s such a terrible waste of life and it doesn’t need to be like this.”
Ita Buttrose, who has long been at the forefront of breaking down barriers with regard to taboo topics, is now a Patron of The Jodi Lee Foundation and using her influence as an iconic Australian, for a good cause.
Established by Jodi Lee and her husband Nick, in honour of mother who died at the age of 41 from bowel cancer, the Foundation works tirelessly to empower people to take steps to prevent bowel cancer and act quickly on symptoms.
“Jodi’s moving story demonstrates that bowel cancer is not just an older person’s disease, as commonly thought,” said Ms Buttrose. “I’d like to encourage people to educate themselves about the risk factors for bowel cancer and trust their instincts. If something feels wrong, go see your GP and don’t be afraid to get a second opinion.”
Bowel cancer in young people is on the rise
The Foundation’s medical expert, Dr Dan Worthley, agrees that it’s a myth that bowel cancer only happens to older people.
“Certainly the older you are, the greater your chance is of developing bowel cancer,” said Dr Worthley. “However, young onset bowel cancer is on the rise and we have to ask ourselves ‘why’? Could it be due to a difference in diet and activity?”
Dr Worthley also points out that there are key factors in a person’s risk of bowel cancer. “Genetics plays a role, so we urge everyone to find out their family’s cancer history. If it involves bowel cancer, particular in close relatives at an early age, then regular testing is a must. And symptoms like rectal bleeding need to be discussed with your doctor. As well as all this, it’s important to follow sensible lifestyle guidelines such as a healthy diet, reduce alcohol consumption, stop smoking and increase physical activity.”
Test your poo
Fewer than 40 per cent of bowel cancers are detected at an early stage when the likelihood of remaining cancer-free is high. The Jodi Lee Foundation particularly encourages people to test if they:
- experience symptoms such as: bleeding from the bottom and / or blood in their poo; a change in bowel habits lasting three weeks or more; unexplained weight loss; extreme tiredness for no obvious reason; or a pain or lump in their tummy;
- have a family history of bowel cancer or personal history of inflammatory bowel disease; or
- are over the age of 50.
“Many people who receive the free government funded Bowel Cancer Tests recoil at the thought of testing and a lot of the packs get placed in the bottom drawer and ignored,” said Ms Buttrose. “I’d like to say to these people – get over yourselves! After all, you do the test in the privacy of your own home and it could save your life.”
“People who have completed the test say it’s quicker, cleaner and easier than they expected. At no time will you touch anything you don’t want to.”
“The test, which is looking for invisible traces of blood in your poo, involves collecting samples smaller than a grain of rice. It’s also important to know that the user-friendliness of the government test has improved, thanks to feedback from participants,” she said.
Free Bowel Cancer Screening Save Lives
The program has saved lives. As ‘Kieran’ (who shares his Workplace Prevention Program story on the Foundation website) has said: “My surgeon told me in no uncertain terms that the test kit saved my life and, given I had no symptoms, I should be extremely grateful that I got tested. If I had waited another 12 months my test results and hopes for the future would have been seriously different.”
The Jodie Lee Foundation website is a one-stop bowel cancer resource – their ‘Trust Your Gut’ section shares preventative measures including diet and exercise tips, symptom checkers, real life stories and how to get tested.
Visit jodileefoundation.org.au for more information.