Bowel cancer strikes early - strikes hard

Recent figures show that the incidence of bowel cancer in young people has surged in the past decade, more than doubling in some age categories. But doctors have been unable to explain the increase.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare analyzed data and found that bowel cancer in men under 25 increased by more than 160 per cent in the five years to 1996 and the same period a decade later. In women of the same age, the increase was more than 75 per cent. Mortality in young men is also higher because patients tend to seek help only with late-stage symptoms. The reasons for the rise, however, are not known.

Graham Newstead, a member of the board of Bowel Cancer Australia said, “'A lot of meat, a lot of obesity, a lot of alcohol are all parts of modern life and so we have to be careful with that when it comes to epidemiology…If you have some bleeding don't just assume - or let your GP assume - that it's hemorrhoids. You need to be investigated and you need to know your family history … There are 4,400 deaths from bowel cancer a year, and it's a preventable illness.” The same analysis, performed by Bowel Cancer Australia, shows an increase in bowel cancer rates of about 40 per cent for men and women between the ages of 25 and 34. Overall rates increased by about 12 per cent. “In the past the only people who got bowel cancer at youth were those who had a genetic background [predisposed to the illness],” Professor Newstead said. “Now we're all seeing young people with bowel cancer.”

Bowel cancer screening programs in Australia focus on those aged over 50. It is recommended this age group has a check-up every two years.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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