4.6 million baby boomers could develop bowel cancer in the next 10 years

Bowel cancer is an insidious disease, and often doesn’t show signs until it has progressed. While many Australians over 60 are diligent about their bowel health, the latest statistics show they need to be even more aware of the risks.

A shocking new report released today by leading social demographer Bernard Salt, says by 2026, 4.6 million baby boomers and 4 million Gen Xers “will be subjected to a bowel cancer lottery”.

“Bowel cancer attacks the middle-aged with progressive lethality, with rates leaping tenfold between the ages of 50 and 79,” Mr Salt said.

The new report by KPMG Demographics and commissioned by Bowel Cancer Australia, about the prevalence and connection between bowel cancer and age reveals bowel cancer strikes hardest among rural communities, simply because over a third of these populations are in the 50 to 79 age group.

“The analysis highlights how localised bowel cancer can be and demonstrates the need for public health programs to be based not only on age but also geography,” Bowel Cancer Australia chief executive Julien Wiggins said, reports The Age.

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Mr Wiggins also highlighted the age-based national screening program had significant issues: people with positive tests need a colonoscopy within 30 days however the government’s waiting times often go beyond that.

“Even before the program’s scheduled full implementation in 2020 – almost two decades after it was first piloted – colonoscopy waiting times in the public health system have exceeded recommended time frames”.

Even so, Mr Wiggins said early detection can save lives. “The unique thing about bowel cancer is that you can catch it before it starts. The screening tests can detect blood in the stool that is invisible to the naked eye.

The key findings in Bernard Salt’s report are:
  • While the largest number of bowel cancer deaths is associated with our largest capital cities, the actual rate of bowel cancer deaths is highest in rural and retirement communities.
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  • In terms of capital cities, Murray (Perth) and Sorell (Hobart) had the highest bowel cancer death rates. In some capital cities, rates were found to vary up to three-to-four times between communities.
    • In Melbourne, the bowel cancer death rate is highest in Whitehorse (12 per 100,000), which is three times higher than City of Melbourne. In Sydney, the death rate peaks at 10 per 100,000 in the Blue Mountains, which is almost two and a half times higher than the death rate in Woollahra. In Adelaide, the death rate is highest in Tea Tree Gully (12 per 100,000) and in Brisbane it is Somerset (11 per 100,00).
    • Parts of regional Australia at a higher risk of bowel cancer appear to be well removed from convenient access to a regional cancer treatment centres
“By 2026, more than eight million Australians will be in the crosshairs of colorectal cancer, a largely preventable disease. A compelling reason in itself for the nation to embrace public health initiatives designed to address this urgent national issue,” Mr Salt said.
“We want to see more lives saved through prevention and early diagnosis, and equally we want to help more patients become survivors,” Mr Wiggins concluded.

Tell us, do you have a family history or personal history of bowel cancer? Do these new stats worry you and make you want to take action?