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 increases a person’s likelihood of developing bowel cancer, however, a lot of the time it is preventable. The risk of developing bowel cancer 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
  • maintaining a healthy body weight
  • not smoking [43233].

Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people [36771]. Although these cancers are experienced at lower rates than non-Indigenous Australians [43295], the survival rates are lower and mortality rates are higher [44306]. This may be due to the lower participation in bowel screening programs, which is a particular risk for those in remote areas, where access to health services can be limited [43295].

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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