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Detect bowel cancer early with home screening

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You may be surprised to learn that New Zealand has one of the highest incidences of bowel cancer in the world. The earlier it is caught, the easier it is to treat and 75% is curable if caught early. Learn about how to reduce your risk, symptoms to watch for, and how a simple home screening test from Unichem may provide valuable early detection.

Symptoms of bowel cancer

Bowel cancer (also known as colorectal cancer) is cancer in any part of the colon or rectum and it affects men and women almost equally.

It’s a good idea to learn about possible bowel cancer symptoms so that you can recognise them and seek medical help if there is reason for concern.

Here’s what you should look out for:

  • A persistent change in bowel habit, such as looser, more diarrhoea-like bowel movements, constipation, or smaller, more frequent bowel movements (ie going to the toilet more often, or trying to go – irregularity in someone whose bowel movements have previously been regular)
  • A change in appearance of bowel movements (eg narrower stools or mucous in stools)
  • Blood in the stool or rectal bleeding
  • Frequent gas pains, cramps, or a feeling of fullness or bloating in the bowel or rectum
  • A feeling that the bowel has not emptied completely after a bowel movement
  • Unexplained anaemia (a low red blood count) causing tiredness, weakness or weight loss
  • Rectal or anal pain or a lump in the rectum or anus
  • Abdominal pain or swelling

If you notice any of these symptoms and they persist for more than two weeks, you should see your doctor, regardless of any bowel screen test result.

Of course, experiencing these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean that you have bowel cancer. Other medical conditions, some foods, or medicines can also cause these changes.

Getting screened for bowel cancer

One of the most effective ways to detect bowel cancer at an early stage is with a regular faecal immunochemical test (FIT), designed to detect blood from pre-cancerous polyps. Bowelscreen Aotearoa is a FIT that’s available from your Unichem Pharmacy. It’s a simple take-home test and doesn’t require you to make any diet or medication changes.

A positive test means blood has been detected in the sample. It does not necessarily mean bowel cancer but it does need further investigation by a doctor and usually a referral for a colonoscopy.

A negative test means there is no current evidence of bleeding from the bowel.

Although bowel cancer can affect people of any age, if you’re 50 or over then medical guidelines recommend screening with a FIT every one to two years.

However, should you experience any change in your bowel habits at any time you should consult your doctor.

Please note that a faecal immunochemical test is not appropriate if you have bowel cancer symptoms, a personal history of bowel cancer or bowel polyps, or a family history of bowel cancer.

In these cases you should see your doctor for individual screening advice.

How to reduce your risk of bowel cancer

As well as regular screening, you can also make a few changes to your diet and lifestyle to help reduce your risk. For instance:

  • Be smoke-free
  • Limit alcohol consumption to no more than two standard drinks on any day
  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • Be physically active – at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, preferably all, days
  • Avoid processed meats, eg deli meats
  • Replace some red meat meals with white meat or vegetarian alternatives
  • Focus on high-fibre foods including a variety of fruit, vegetables, whole grain cereals, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes

Some risk factors such as age or a genetic pre-disposition to bowel cancer cannot be modified, but they can be monitored.

For a Bowelscreen Aotearoa FIT kit, visit your local Unichem Pharmacy or click to purchase online from Life Pharmacy.