SCREENING TOO LATE
Bowel (colorectal) cancer is a common disease. It is one of the most frequently diagnosed cancers in the world: it ranks third, behind lung cancer and liver cancer, and it affects almost as many women as men.
Bowel cancer is the
third most common
cancer in the world.
People dying from
bowel cancer worldwide
new cases of
bowel cancer diagnosed
each year globally.
Around the world, three new cases of bowel cancer are diagnosed every minute, and this varies among different countries. The rate of bowel cancer is particularly high in Australia, United States, certain South American countries, Europe, New Zealand, and more recently in Japan. Studies have shown that socioeconomic status is an important risk factor for bowel cancers. A difference in exposure to risk factors (especially food) could explain this difference.
In addition, low incomes, a low level of education, and insufficient health cover would limit access to appropriate preventive, diagnostic, and treatments for patients. However, the stage of the tumour at the time of diagnosis is the main factor in survival.
With early screening and management, bowel cancer is cured in 90% of cases.
Bowel cancer is the third most common type of newly diagnosed cancer in Australia. 15,610 Australians are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year, including 1,680 people under the age of 50. Bowel cancer claims the lives of 5,354 Australians every year, including 290 people under the age of 50.
A changing tumour
Bowel cancer develops from a cell in the inner lining of the colon (large intestine) or rectum, often by progressive transformation of a benign tumour, also known as a polyp. The risk of transformation of a polyp into cancer varies, depending on the size and type of cells in the benign tumour. At first, bowel cancer grows locally. Then, cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body (metastases) most often to the liver and lungs.
A silent cancer
The absence of symptoms is common. Bowel cancer can therefore develop silently and can remain undiagnosed for a while. Hence the need for screening. Nevertheless, certain signs may point to the need for seeing your GP.
The main risk factor 94% of bowel cancers occur in people over 50 years of age. The average age of people at the time of diagnosis is 70 years old. While some risk factors are genetic, others are preventable by adopting a healthy lifestyle. Regular physical activity and a diet rich in fibre, fruits and vegetables are beneficial. On the other hand, the risks of bowel cancer are increased by a diet rich in red meat and cured meats, excess weight or obesity, excessive alcohol consumption, and smoking. Inflammatory bowel diseases (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis) are also risk factors for bowel cancer.
The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program aims to reduce deaths from bowel cancer by detecting the early signs of the disease. Every 2 years, eligible Australians from 50 to 74 years of age are sent a free, simple test that is done at home.
The program started in 2006 and has grown to testing approximately 2.1 million Australians per year, which represents 42% of this age group.
Different types of treatments can be used to treat bowel cancer, depending on the stage of the disease: surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and targeted treatments. These treatments can have different objectives depending on the stage of the disease: to cure the cancer – that is, by destroying all the cancer cells, to prevent the cancer from spreading, or to improve the quality of life of the patient by reducing the symptoms. Depending on each patient and their circumstances, one treatment or a combination of treatments may be recommended (for example, surgery plus chemotherapy).
Oncology is one of our main priorities. Today, we spend more than a third of our research investment on the fight against cancer. What is Servier’s vision? We aim to improve the management of patients with cancer, including bowel cancer, by proposing innovative solutions like:
- developing models to better understand the mechanisms involved in the development of the disease and resistance to treatment
- developing tools to improve the choice of the most appropriate treatment for each patient
- evaluating different combinations of treatments to optimise patient care
- creating less invasive methods of analysis and follow-up for patients; taking into account patient perspectives and quality of life when developing new products
- Do the test – or see your doctor. Bowel cancer is one of the deadliest killers, and it develops silently. However, early detection and management can cure it in 90% of cases
- Change your lifestyle. Many cases are preventable by reducing the consumption of red meat, alcohol, and tobacco, and avoid becoming overweight.
- Be informed. Being well informed about this disease and its symptoms can help prevent its occurrence, can help patients live better with the disease and understand this cancer better.
- World Health Organization 2018, National Cancer Institute Colorectal Cancer Screening 2017, https://www.aihw.gov.au,
- World Cancer Research Fund Colorectal cancer statistics 2018, BMJ Best Practice Colorectal Cancer 2018