Frequently Asked Questions
Bowel (colorectal) polyps and cancer
What are bowel (colorectal) polyps?
Polyps are growths from the inside lining of the bowel. They are common as people get older, particularly over the age of 50 years. Polyps usually start small and grow over several years. Bowel polyps and cancer generally do not cause any symptoms until they are advanced. Larger polyps (over 10 mm size) and those with high grade abnormalities are more likely to undergo cancerous changes. Therefore, screening and removing polyps is an important way of preventing bowel cancer. In Australia screening is done by either performing a test for microscopic blood in your poo (FOBT) or using colonoscopy. Every 2 years, close to your birthday, people aged between 50 and 74 years in Australia are encouraged to participate in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program using FOBT. If FOBT detects blood in your poo then colonoscopy should be performed to make sure there is no cancer or polyp. The types of polyp that can grow into cancer are called adenomas or sessile serrated lesions/ polyps. If a polyp is fully removed it should not grow back. However, once you have had an adenoma or sessile serrated lesion, you have an increased risk of growing more in future years. That is why you are usually advised to have another colonoscopy at an appropriate interval depending on the size, number and severity of the polyp(s).
Here is a link to more polyp information: https://www.gesa.org.au/public/13/files/Consumer%20Information/Bowel%20Polyps%202nd%20Ed.pdf
How common is bowel cancer, and how can I prevent it for myself?
Bowel cancer is one of the most common and preventable cancers, yet it is the second highest cause of cancer death in Australia. It can be prevented by screening, detection and early removal of polyps.
Without screening about 1 in 14 Australians by their 85th birthday. If you have a first degree relative with bowel cancer, then colonoscopy is the advised test. Also, if you notice blood in your poo or when wiping with toilet paper, have a change in your usual bowel pattern, unintended weight loss, or if your doctor finds that you have a low red blood cell count or low iron levels then you may be asked to have a colonoscopy. Discuss with your GP if you have symptoms.
Can Africans, Asians or non-Caucasians develop bowel cancer?
Here is a link to the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program:
June is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month in Australia. Though bowel cancer is more common in males than in females, and in people aged over 50 years who have never been screened, it can occur at any age. Screening is quick and saves lives. If you have had bowel cancer please let your family members know so they can be screened with colonoscopy.