Bowel Cancer – What You Need to Know about Prevention and Treatment

“DecemBeard” – Raising Awareness for Bowel Cancer Australia

1st – 31st December 2017

From Specialised Health’s Exercise Physiologist, Jennifer Smallridge:

Aside from Santa Claus, you might be seeing a few more beards around in December, thanks to Bowel Cancer Australia’s “DecemBeard” campaign. For the fifth year running, DecemBeard encourages men to grow their facial hair to raise awareness and much needed funds for bowel cancer.

At Specialised Health, our Exercise Physiologists are frequently working with many types of cancer, and bowel cancer is no exception. Exercise can help along all stages of the journey, particularly to reduce cancer-related fatigue and subsequent comorbities which may develop.

Bowel cancer is Australia’s second most common cancer1, and becomes more prevalent in people over the age of 50. You may also know it as colorectal cancer, and it is usually preceded by the presence of polyps, which can become invasive if undetected.

Early detection is crucial

In recent years, the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program has offered a non-invasive test to be completed in the home free of charge for those over 50. Participation in this program is reported to be around 39%, and it is proposed2 that achieving the targeted uptake of 40% will prevent 92,200 cancer cases until 2040.

The need to screen for this bowel cancer is largely due to the rapid rise in cases, as well as the fact that if detected early, bowel cancer is highly treatable. It can present with no symptoms, however any changes in bowel habits, including the presence of blood, is encouraged to be discussed with a GP.

Prevention is the cure

 Bowel cancer is one of the most preventable cancers, and the Cancer Council3 recommends the following for effective protection:

  • Undertaking the free screening available, every two years, after the age of 50
  • Completing 30-60 minutes of exercise per day
  • Maintaining a healthy body weight
  • Eating a well-balanced diet, high in fruits and vegetables
  • Eating naturally high-fibre foods
  • Avoiding processed and burnt meat, and limiting red meat intake to 3-4 times per week
  • Limiting alcohol, and quitting smoking

It is important to note that most people who develop bowel cancer have no family history of the disease, however a first-degree relative with bowel cancer can increase risk.

Common treatment pathways

The main treatment for early bowel cancer is surgery, removing the cancer and surrounding tissue and rejoining the bowel to restore normal function. In less than 5% of cases, this may result in a permanent colostomy to allow removal of body waste via the abdominal wall. Bowel surgery is a major operation, requiring a recovery period of four to six weeks. If the cancer is detected early, it is less likely that adjuvant therapies such as radiation and chemotherapy need to be utilised.

Life after bowel cancer

Social connection and peer support is crucial after any cancer diagnosis, and Bowel Cancer Australia have established a peer-to-peer network to connect cancer survivors with each other. Many people report a fear of “having the cancer grow back”, and as such a multi-disciplinary approach including follow up appointments and lifestyle support proves to be the best practice in managing the mind and body.

The five-year survivorship rate after a diagnosis of bowel cancer is 69%, and many individuals successfully return to the workforce and the activities that they enjoy.

If you are currently working with a customer who has been diagnosed with bowel cancer, be sure to read our next instalment in the Specialised Health newsletter regarding the most up-to-date research and evidence based recommendations for engaging assistance.


  1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. ACIM (Australian Cancer Incidence and Mortality) Books. Canberra: AIHW.
  2. Kuipers, E.J & Lansdorp-Vogelaar, I. (2017). Colorectal cancer screening in Australia. The Lancet Public Health, 2(7), e304-e305.
  3. Cancer Australia (2017). Bowel cancer fact sheet. Retrieved 23 November 2017, from