Bowel cancer

Most bowel cancers (sometimes called colorectal, colon or rectal cancers) start as benign, non-cancerous growths called ‘polyps’ that form on the inner lining or the wall of the bowel [43924]. These polyps may become cancerous if they are not removed.

Family history, genetics, inflammatory bowel disease and a previous diagnosis of bowel cancer can increase a person’s likelihood of developing the disease [43924]. Lifestyle factors can also increase the chance of developing bowel cancer, however this risk can be reduced by:

  • eating a high-fibre diet – which includes lots of fruits and vegetables
  • limiting the consumption of red meat and avoiding processed meat
  • not smoking
  • limiting alcohol consumption
  • being physically active
  • maintaining a healthy body weight [43924].

Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It has the highest survival rate of all cancers among this population, however it also has one of the highest mortality rates [42101], which may be due to low participation in bowel screening programs. This is a particular risk for those in remote areas, where access to health services can be limited [47262].

Initiatives such as the National Indigenous Bowel Screening Pilot Project have helped to address low rates of participation among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, which is important as when found early, bowel cancer is one of the most treatable cancers [43926]. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can currently receive free screening for bowel cancer via the Australian Government’s National Bowel Cancer Screening Program.


Key resources



Karnta by Corinne Nampijinpa Ryan

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