The rise in bowel cancer rates for young people in Australia has prompted calls for a change in screening guidelines for the deadly illness.
Research carried out by The Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology has found a 2.9 per cent increase in bowel cancer among people under the age of 50 in Australia.
The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program allows eligible people from the ages of 50 to 74 to receive a free bowel cancer screening kit to complete at home.
However, the alarming increase has prompted calls to change the program guidelines, so that younger people have better access to services.
Professor of Colorectal Cancer Surgery Cameron Platell said it would be hard to argue for screening programs for younger people.
“Your lifetime risk of getting bowel cancer is one in 25… that’s pretty high,” Dr Platell said.
“But the fact is the rate of bowel cancer is much lower for those under the age of 50 and so we don’t have a good argument or guideline to screen for cancer with younger people.”
Dr Platell said despite the misconceptions of smoking and alcohol consumption being tied directly to bowel cancer, the leading cause was dietary intake and the rise in obesity.
“The best way to prevent the likelihood of cancer, is to stay fit and maintain a good weight,” he said.
“Exercise benefits your immune system and the more active your immune system is, the better you can contain the cancer and stop it from spreading.”
Colorectal cancer is Australia’s second deadliest cancer and is responsible for an average 100 deaths per week in Australia, yet it is also one of the most preventable, if found early 90 per cent of cases can be successfully treated.
June of 2019 will mark the annual Bowel Cancer Awareness month which will include the Never Too Young campaign that focuses on honouring and raising awareness for those who have passed away from young-onset bowel cancer.
The campaign will use social media to shed light on the disease by sharing stories of people living with bowel cancer using the hashtag #Never2Young.
Bowel Cancer Australia’s National Community Engagement manager Claire Annear said there needs to be more focus on young people living with bowel cancer.
“It is a common misconception that bowel cancer is an old person’s disease,” she said.
“But the reality is that you should never be told that you are too young to have bowel cancer.”
Ms Annear said the campaign would help to challenge assumptions and perceptions about young-onset bowl cancer.
“[The week] will raise awareness and help save lives,” she said.
“Offering practical and emotional support, increasing health knowledge and building communities through shared experiences.”
Experts say further research is needed to understand the rise in cases and to help develop potential preventative strategies.