Colon Cancer: Australia’s Silent Epidemic

Colorectal surgeons and researchers know that colon cancer, often referred to as colorectal or bowel cancer, is a silent epidemic in Australia. Despite being the third most diagnosed cancer in the country, public awareness of this potentially deadly disease remains shockingly low. In this article, we will explore facts about colon cancer, its risk factors, and why raising awareness is crucial for increasing the number of people getting their colonoscopy in Melbourne to promote early detection and prevention, all with the help of a leading female colorectal surgeon.

The hidden truth: Colon cancer in Australia

To grasp the severity of the situation, it’s essential to understand the scope of colon cancer in Australia. According to the latest statistics, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in the country, following breast and lung cancers. In 2020, it accounted for over 15,000 new cancer cases. Shockingly, it’s also the second most deadly cancer in Australia, claiming around 5,300 lives annually.

Despite these alarming figures, colon cancer often lurks in the shadows of public awareness. Unlike some other cancers that have captured the spotlight, colon cancer remains a silent menace, quietly affecting lives without the recognition it deserves.

The importance of awareness

So, why is raising awareness so important when it comes to colon cancer? The answer lies in early detection and prevention. Colon cancer is highly treatable when caught in its early stages by a colorectal surgeon. In fact, 91% of cases can be successfully treated if detected early. Many people feel embarrassed about the intimate nature of a colonoscopy but don’t know that they can request a female colorectal surgeon if this makes it easier. Another issue is that colorectal cancer is starting to appear more and more common for younger adults, so many people mistakenly put off their screening procedure because they feel like it’s an older person’s disease.

This lack of awareness often leads to delayed diagnoses, allowing the disease to progress to more advanced stages where the cancer has spread to distant parts of the body, treatment becomes more challenging and the 5-year relative survival rate drops to just 14%.

Understanding colon cancer

Before delving further into the issue of awareness, let’s take a closer look at what colon or bowel cancer is and how it develops.

What is colon cancer?

This is a cancer that primarily affects the colon or rectum, which are parts of the large intestine.

It usually begins as small, benign growths called polyps on the inner lining of the colon or rectum. While not all polyps turn cancerous, certain types, particularly adenomatous polyps, have the potential to become cancerous over time.

As these polyps grow and mutate, they can develop into malignant tumours. Over time, if not detected and treated, these tumours can invade nearby tissues and potentially spread to other parts of the body, a process known as metastasis.

Risk factors for colon cancer

Several risk factors can increase an individual’s likelihood of developing colon cancer. These include:

  • Age: Colon cancer is more common in older adults, with most cases occurring in people over the age of 50 – although it rates are rising in much younger adults.
  • Family history: Individuals with a family history of colon cancer or certain hereditary conditions, such as Lynch syndrome or familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), have an increased risk.
  • Personal history: A history of inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, can elevate the risk.
  • Dietary factors: Diets high in red meat and processed foods, diets low in fibre, as well as excessive alcohol consumption, can contribute to a higher risk.
  • Lifestyle choices: Sedentary lifestyles and obesity are associated with an increased likelihood of developing colon cancer.
  • Smoking: Smoking tobacco has been linked to an elevated risk of colon cancer.

Screening and prevention

The good news is that colon cancer is highly preventable and, when detected early, highly treatable. One of the most effective ways to prevent colon cancer is through regular screenings. Colonoscopy, the gold standard for colon cancer screening, allows healthcare professionals to detect and remove polyps before they become cancerous.

For individuals at average risk, colonoscopy screenings are typically recommended starting at age 45, and then repeated every 10 years if no issues are found. Those with higher risk factors may require earlier or more frequent screenings.

Additionally, alternative screening methods, such as faecal occult blood tests (FOBT) and sigmoidoscopy, can also be used as part of a screening program.

The role of public awareness

Now, let’s circle back to the critical issue of public awareness. Despite the life-saving potential of early detection and prevention, many Australians remain unaware of the importance of colon cancer screenings and the risk factors associated with the disease.

This lack of awareness manifests in several ways:

  • Low screening rates: One of the most concerning outcomes of limited awareness is low screening participation. Many individuals who should be screened for colon cancer either postpone going for their colonoscopy in Melbourne or entirely neglect this vital preventive measure.
  • Delayed diagnoses: Due to limited knowledge about the symptoms of colon cancer, many individuals ignore warning signs, such as changes in bowel habits, rectal bleeding, or unexplained weight loss. These delays in seeking medical attention can result in more advanced stages of the disease at the time of diagnosis.
  • Missed prevention opportunities: Awareness is not only about recognising the symptoms but also about adopting healthier lifestyles and dietary choices that can reduce the risk of developing colon cancer in the first place.
  • Myths and misinformation: Where there’s limited public knowledge about a disease, myths, misunderstandings, and misconceptions thrive – causing people to make decisions without having reliable information at hand.
  • Limited research funding: Public awareness can also drive research efforts and funding into improving screening methods, treatment options, and ultimately finding a cure for colon cancer.

Raising awareness: A collective effort

To combat the silent epidemic of colon cancer in Australia, raising awareness must become a collective effort involving healthcare professionals, public health campaigns, and individuals themselves. Here are some crucial steps we can take:

  • Education campaigns: Launching comprehensive educational campaigns that inform the public about bowel or colon cancer, its risk factors, symptoms, and the importance of regular screenings. These campaigns should target a wide range of age groups, not just those at higher risk.
  • Regular screenings: Encouraging individuals to speak with their healthcare providers about their risk factors and the appropriate timing for screenings. By making screenings a routine part of healthcare, we can increase early detection rates.
  • Healthy lifestyle choices: Promoting healthy dietary choices, regular physical activity, and smoking cessation can help reduce the risk of developing colon cancer.
  • Funding and research: Advocating for increased research funding to improve colon cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment options.
  • Support for patients: Providing support and resources for individuals diagnosed with colon cancer, as well as their families, to navigate the challenges of diagnosis and treatment.

Help fight colon cancer – Get screened by a leading female colorectal surgeon in Melbourne

Colon cancer is Australia’s silent epidemic, and colorectal surgeons can see it taking a significant toll on lives and healthcare resources. Raising public awareness about this disease is not just a matter of knowledge; it’s a matter of life and death. By promoting awareness, encouraging people to go for their colonoscopy in Melbourne from age 45, and advocating for healthier lifestyles, we can take significant strides towards reducing the impact of colon cancer on our communities. Let’s shine a light on this silent epidemic and work together to save lives. Want to speak to a female colorectal surgeon? Book today.