Understanding Colorectal Cancer in Australia: Facts, Figures, and Progress

Colorectal cancer, commonly known as bowel cancer, stands as a significant health concern in Australia, ranking as the third most diagnosed cancer in the country. The latest insights into the prevalence and impact of bowel cancer shed light on the urgency of prevention and early detection efforts, especially given the rise in diagnoses by colorectal surgeons among individuals under the age of 50. With this in mind, here’s some insight into colorectal cancer in Australia, with the help of a leading female surgeon who is a colorectal surgeon in Melbourne.

Scope of the Issue

Annually, a staggering 15,531 Australians receive the distressing news of a bowel cancer diagnosis from their colorectal surgeon. This equates to approximately 299 new cases each week, highlighting the pervasive nature of this disease. Alarmingly, among these diagnoses, 1,716 individuals are under the age of 50, challenging the conventional perception that bowel cancer primarily affects older populations.

Tragically, bowel cancer claims the lives of 5,350 Australians every year, leading to an average of 103 deaths per week. Disturbingly, 315 of these deaths occur in individuals under the age of 50, underscoring the urgency of understanding and addressing the factors contributing to the rising incidence in this younger demographic.

Survival Rates and Trends

Bowel cancer, encompassing both colon and rectal cancers, is the most common digestive-tract cancer in Australia. Despite its prevalence, there is a silver lining in the form of a relatively high 5-year relative survival rate of 69%. This statistic emphasises the importance of early detection by seeing your colorectal surgeon for a colonoscopy each year, as 90% of bowel cancers can be successfully treated when identified in the early stages. Remember, you can always request a female surgeon if this makes the process more comfortable!

However, input from colorectal surgeons and recent studies reveal a concerning trend: an increase in the incidence of bowel cancer among Australians under the age of 50. In particular, colon cancer has seen a rise of 9.3% since the mid-2000s, while rectal cancer has increased by 7.3% since the early 1990s. Conversely, there has been a decrease in bowel cancer incidence among Australians aged 50 and over, possibly attributable to the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP).

Australia’s National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP)

The NBCSP plays a pivotal role in combating bowel cancer by focusing on prevention and early detection. The program, aiming to reduce deaths from bowel cancer, invites all eligible individuals to participate in screening every two years. The screening process involves a free, simple stool test kit, which participants can complete at home.

As part of ongoing research, there is a consideration to extend the NBCSP to include people in their forties, late seventies, and early eighties. Studies suggest that screening individuals aged 45 to 74 provides the most balanced approach to population bowel cancer screening for those at average risk. While there might be potential benefits in screening those outside this age range, the associated potential harms are deemed to outweigh these advantages.

Impact and Risk Factors

Research indicates that several factors may contribute to the increased risk of bowel cancer among Australians under 50, including obesity, alcohol consumption, and red and processed meat intake. To mitigate the overall risk of cancer, especially bowel cancer, it is strongly recommended that all Australians adopt lifestyle changes such as reducing alcohol consumption, moderating red and processed meat intake, and maintaining a healthy weight.

The research also underscores the critical importance of participation in the NBCSP. Early detection, facilitated by routine screening, significantly enhances the chances of curing a large proportion of bowel cancers. For those aged 45–49 years, access to screening is available through general practitioners and colorectal surgeons, ensuring informed decisions are made in the lead-up to the first routine invitation by the NBCSP at age 50 years.

In conclusion, understanding the facts and statistics surrounding colorectal cancer in Australia is a crucial step toward effective prevention and early detection. As the nation grapples with the increasing incidence among younger individuals, continued research, public awareness, and engagement with screening programs will play pivotal roles in the ongoing battle against this pervasive and potentially fatal disease.

Schedule Your Colonoscopy with an Experienced Colorectal Surgeon In Melbourne

Concerned about your colorectal cancer risks? Schedule a colonoscopy with a leading colorectal surgeon in Melbourne. Dr Naseem Mirbagheri, as one of the few female surgeons operating in Victoria, puts your comfort as a patient is a priority.