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Bowel (Colorectal) Cancer: the FACTS
What is the bowel?
The bowel is the longest part of the digestive system, linking the stomach to the anus. There are two sections to
the bowel; the small bowel, where food is absorbed, and the large bowel where water and salt are absorbed.
There are two sections to the large bowel, the colon and the rectum.
What is bowel / colorectal cancer?
Bowel cancer normally affects the colon or rectum. Cancer of the small bowel is rare. Bowel cancer starts in the
lining of the bowel, and if left untreated, spreads to the bowel wall. As it develops further, it can spread to the
lymph nodes, lungs and liver.
A small percentage of bowel cancer cases are associated with familial adenomatous polypsois, an inherited
genetic pre-disposition to the development of many non-cancerous growths, or polyps, in the bowel. If left
untreated, these growths will become cancerous. In eighty percent of bowel cancer cases, however, there is no
known hereditary or genetic link.
What causes bowel cancer?
While the causes of bowel cancer are not yet understood, there are known risk factors:
• Age: bowel cancer is most common in people aged over 50
• A personal or family history of bowel cancer
• Genetic pre-disposition to either familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal
• A personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease1
How common is bowel cancer?
According to the Australian Cancer Council, bowel cancer is the second-most common cancer in Australian men
and women. Each year in Australia, there are around 12,500 new cases of bowel cancer diagnosed, and 4,400
people die from the disease. The risk of developing bowel cancer increases with age; 1 in 10 men will have bowel
cancer by the age