Selina was 51 when she noticed a persistent change in her bowel habits. Although she kept fit and healthy, she decided to do an at-home bowel cancer screening test. She was absolutely stunned when the test returned a positive result. After discussing it with her doctor at Narara Valley Medical, Selina was referred for a colonoscopy. Although she had always been careful about what she ate and felt reasonably well, Selina was diagnosed with bowel cancer.

The good news, however, is that when it is detected early, the treatment is less invasive and more likely to be successful. Nine out of ten cases, if detected early, can be treated successfully.


Selina’s story is far from unique. Bowel cancer (also called colon or colorectal cancer) is common and kills more people in New South Wales than breast, prostate, or skin cancer every year.

Ninety-one percent of bowel cancers are found in people over 50. It affects one in 12 men and one in 16 women in the state.

Globally, there are over 1.4 million cases reported annually. Sadly, it claims around 700,000 lives each year, making it a significant health concern globally.

What are the causes of bowel cancer?

Our genes, lifestyle choices, and environmental factors all play vital roles. Factors like age (more common in older adults), family history, a diet high in processed foods and low in fiber, obesity, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption increase the risk.

How is bowel cancer diagnosed?

Detecting bowel cancer involves various methods. Routine screenings like fecal occult blood tests, colonoscopies, and imaging techniques help identify abnormalities in the colon or rectum.

Early detection significantly improves treatment outcomes.

How is bowel cancer treated?

Treatment options depend on the cancer’s stage. Surgery to remove the tumor is often the primary approach. In advanced cases, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or targeted drug therapies may be recommended. Personalised treatment plans are crafted by healthcare teams based on each person’s circumstances.

What’s the best thing a person can do to prevent bowel cancer?

Early detection is critical to a good outcome. If you are over the age of 50, you are eligible for the free in-home test every two years. Doing the test is the first thing we recommend.

One of the most impactful steps in preventing bowel cancer is maintaining a healthy lifestyle. A balanced diet rich in fibre, along with regular exercise and avoiding harmful habits like smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, significantly reduces the risk.

Fibre plays a crucial role in bowel health. It aids in digestion, promotes regular bowel movements, and helps prevent constipation. Additionally, a high-fibre diet can lower the risk of bowel cancer by keeping the digestive system healthy. It’s recommended to include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts in your diet to ensure an adequate intake of fibre.

Of course, if you have any questions or concerns, speak to your doctor at Narara Valley Medical.

What are the survival rates?

Survival rates have seen improvements due to advancements in early detection and treatment. In 2023, the global five-year survival rate for bowel cancer averages around 65%.

In Australia, it stands higher, at approximately 70%, owing to robust healthcare infrastructure and proactive screening programs.

What about the screening program?

Every two years, the national bowel cancer screening program sends a test kit to people aged 50 to 74.

The test is very simple and easy to do. Full, easy-to-follow instructions are provided in the envelope. There is also a screening test helpline on 1800 930 998 if you need help.

The test is sent to a pathology lab. You should receive a letter with your results within 4 weeks.

Awareness, early detection, and lifestyle modifications remain crucial in battling bowel cancer.

Watch the at-home test video to see how easy it is to do the test.

Where can I get support if I have been diagnosed with bowel cancer?

If you have been diagnosed with bowel cancer, help is available.

Bowel Cancer Australia has a team of bowel cancer nurses available for telehealth so you can simply phone and chat with them. You can email them any questions. They are there to provide an extra layer of support to you and your healthcare team.

Among the many excellent services, there are nutritionists, a closed Facebook group, a peer-to-peer support group for wellness beyond diagnosis, lots of resources, a podcast, social workers, and resources for young people. Email a bowel cancer nurse or call 1800 727 336.

The kit is free of charge and easier than most people expect.

December also marks DecemberBeard and DecembHair, the hilarious fundraising initiatives of Bowel Cancer Australia. You can share your story, register, and get fundraising tips.


Selina underwent surgery to remove the cancer. Afterward, a short course of radiotherapy helped reduce the risk of the cancer re-emerging.

It has been two years now since the diagnosis and she feels great again and is walking the dog every morning and afternoon.

“I am so glad I took the screening test when I did. It wasn’t a minute too early,” says Selina.

“Doing the test was quick and easy. There is even a video showing you what to do.”


The information in this article is general in nature and shouldn’t be considered as personal medical advice. Nothing beats a consultation with a good doctor for personalised medical advice for you.

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