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HealthInfo West Coast-Te Tai Poutini

Bowel cancer

This page has links to information in Māori.

Bowel cancer is a common cancer, especially if you are over 50 and live in New Zealand. Bowel is another word for intestine.

Bowel cancers can be in your colon (large bowel) or rectum (the final section of your large bowel). It is rare to get cancer in your small bowel (small intestine).

Who is most at risk?

As with most cancers, your risk of bowel cancer increases with age. More than 70% of cases are in people aged over 65. But the habits you adopt earlier in life can affect your risk later on.

Around one in 10 bowel cancers are linked to specific genetic (inherited) conditions. And if other people in your family have had bowel cancer, you have a higher risk of the disease.

Certain bowel conditions such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease also increase your risk of getting bowel cancer.

How can you reduce your risk?

young man and vegeThere are several things you can do to reduce your risk of bowel cancer.

Keeping a healthy weight and being physically active will both reduce your risk of bowel cancer. Try to do at least half an hour of moderate physical activity five times a week.

What you eat and drink can also affect your risk of bowel cancer.

Smoking also increases your risk of bowel cancer. If you smoke, it is never too late to stop. The earlier you quit, the better.

What should you look out for?

It is important to know what is normal for you so that you can spot any changes. If you notice any of these symptoms and they last longer than three weeks, tell your doctor:

While these symptoms are more likely to be caused by other things, not cancer, it's always better to play safe. You can read more about the symptoms on the Bowel Cancer New Zealand website.

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

On the next page: Bowel cancer screening

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by clinical director, Gastroenterology, Canterbury DHB. Last reviewed May 2017. Last updated August 2019.


See also:

Bowel polyps

Bowel surgery

Cancer treatments & their side effects

Looking after yourself and other people who have cancer

Page reference: 48020

Review key: HIBWC-17275