From ABC Health & Wellbeing - The Pulse
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Bowel cancer not just 'an old person's disease' by Cathy Johnson Bowel cancer in those under 50 is on the rise and perceptions it is "an old person's disease" may be partly responsible for younger people ignoring important symptoms, new research suggests. Think you're young and invincible? Bowel Cancer Australia has a message for you. If you've got abdominal pain, blood in your bowel motions, or a change in bowel pattern (constipation or diarrhoea) that's lasted more than two weeks, see your GP – regardless of your age. That's the key point the organisation wants to spread, after the release of a new survey of people diagnosed with bowel cancer before they turned 50. The survey of 200 people represents around 20 per cent of the 1100 diagnosed in this age group each year. While bowel cancer is Australia's second biggest killer, it's a disease younger people – and even their GPs – tend not to consider when investigating symptoms, says the organisation's chief executive Julien Wiggins. That's if symptoms are noticed and acted upon at all. "Almost a third surveyed waited three months or more to seek medical advice, despite experiencing tell-tale symptoms," Wiggins says. Some noticed blood in bowel motions but dismissed it as likely to have come from haemorrhoids, he said. Others had pain but thought it simply signalled a stomach bug. Still others were too busy or too embarrassed to see a doctor for advice on symptoms they'd noticed. "The whole consideration it could be something sinister isn't on their radar." This is thought to explain why half the people surveyed were first diagnosed with stage 3 or 4 of the disease. This means the cancer has already spread beyond the bowel to lymph nodes or other organs, making it more difficult to treat.
Worrying rise One reason the complacency is worrying is that rates of bowel cancer in younger age groups are growing. In particular, in those aged 30-39, there's been a 35 per cent increase between 1990 and 2010, despite stabilising or falling rates in older people (possibly due to improved screening and surveillance of those at higher risk). But what's causing this rise remains a puzzle. Bowel cancer is closely linked with diet and physical activity, which could potentially explain the rising rates in young people, says surgeon and Bowel Cancer Australia director Associate Professor Graham Newstead. "Your risk of bowel cancer increases if you lead a sedentary lifestyle, rely on processed or packaged foods or have diabetes or obesity, so it's not surprising that we are now starting to see the full impact of diet and lifestyle in the younger generation," Newstead says. "Early-onset bowel cancer tends to be more aggressive as well, leaving a devastating effect on patients and their families. We are acting now to make young people aware that this cancer can affect them." But "the jury is still out" on why tumours in young people are more aggressive. Other lifestyle factors which might influence the development of cancer in younger people include sleep patterns, spending more time sitting, and alcohol and recreational drug use. But more research is needed. While 65 per cent of those surveyed did not have a family history of bowel cancer, if you're under 50 and have family members who've had the disease then you should talk to your GP, even if you haven't noticed symptoms. But family history or not, "it's up to you to trust your body and see a GP is something doesn't feel right," Wiggins says. Keeping bowel cancer at bay We can do a lot to give ourselves the best chance possible of not developing bowel cancer. In fact, Bowel Cancer Australia says following a healthy diet and getting regular exercise could prevent 66 to 75 per cent of bowel cancer cases. Here are some specific tips: Eat a wide variety of fresh fruit and vegetables and other sources of fibre (such as legumes, wholegrain breads and cereals, pasta and rice). Exercise regularly. Limit your red meat intake to three or four times a week, and try to avoid processed meats. Drink alcohol only moderately (no more than two alcoholic drinks a day for both men and women). Maintain a healthy weight. Don't smoke. Try to limit your intake of foods that are high in animal fats and sugar. Source: You can reduce your risk of bowel cancer – ABC Health & Wellbeing