Symptom awareness vital in bowel cancer battle

People aged between 50 and 60 should be increasingly aware of having bowel cancer, a Griffith University expert has warned.

Professor Alfred Lam, an internationally recognised authority in bowel cancer research, says people could be unaware they have the disease because they are not sufficiently informed about its early onset symptoms.

Around 80 Australians die each week from the disease. Early detection of the cancer offers the best chance for patients to survive.

“It is not an easy cancer to detect even though it is the second most common cause of cancer death in Australia,” Professor Lam, a member of the Griffith Health Institute, said.

“Also, people have a higher risk of bowel cancer if they have a family history of bowel cancer.

“Many people may have the cancer for some time without seeking medical advice.”

Bowel Cancer Awareness Week starts this Sunday (June 5) and Professor Lam, who operates both as a pathologist and researcher on the Gold Coast, believes it should be a wake-up call.

“Many patients have no prominent symptoms for bowel cancer. However, there are situations that people over 50 should look for,” he said.

“The symptom can be very non-specific. If they have anaemic symptoms like tiredness, weight loss, a lack of energy or loss of appetite, they may consider bowel cancer as a possibility when they see their GP.

“The other primary symptom is any change in bowel habit, which they should bring to the attention of their GP.

“People may not want or care to do the bowel cancer screening, but it is important this attitude is changed.”

Professor Lam’s award-winning research into the cause of bowel cancer during the past 20 years has triggered important medical progress in the identification of the clinical and pathological characters of bowel cancer in Queensland.

His clinical works include pathological assessment of bowel cancer and multi-disciplinary team management of bowel cancer.

He is also currently working on the detection of cancer stem cells in bowel cancer.

Professor Lam is based at the Centre for Medicine and Oral Health at the Gold Coast.

He is the Foundation Chair, Professor of Pathology and Head of Pathology at Griffith University.

Bowel Cancer Awareness Week, 5 – 11, June 2011