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6 ways to reduce your bowel cancer risk.

Bowel cancer (also known as colorectal cancer) is Australia’s second biggest cancer killer, claiming more Australian lives each year than breast, prostate or skin cancer.

We encourage all South Australians to follow these 6 easy steps to a healthier bowel.

There are many factors that contribute to a greater risk of bowel cancer but there are also many ways to reduce your risk.

Here are Cancer Council SA’s top 6 recommendations to reduce your risk of bowel cancer:

1. Get physically active

Physical activity can reduce the risk of bowel cancer by speeding up the rate of digestion, which helps to remove waste and toxins from our body quicker. It also helps to maintain a healthy body weight, which is also linked to a lower risk of bowel cancer.

Aim for one hour of moderate intensity physical activity (where you are slightly out of breath but can still hold a conversation) or 30 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity (breathing hard and cannot hold a conversation) on five or more days a week.

If you haven’t been physically active in a while, or you are starting something new, start at a level that is easily managed and gradually build up to more intense exercise. See your doctor before starting a new exercise program.

2. Eat a fibre-rich, well-balanced diet

Dietary fibre occurs naturally in foods such as wholegrain breads and cereals, fruit, vegetables, seeds, nuts and legumes and is an important part of a nutritious and balanced diet.

Men should consume 30 grams of dietary fibre per day and women around 25 grams per day. In fact, research has shown that almost 20 per cent of bowel cancers could be prevented if Australians met their dietary fibre requirements.

Fruits and vegetables are also rich in antioxidants, which help to reduce the risk of many cancers, including bowel cancer. It can also help to maintain a healthy body weight which is also linked to a lower risk of bowel cancer.

Get more high fibre foods into your diet with our High Fibre Meal Plan and find out more about nutrition and cancer.

3. Choose lean red meats over fatty and processed meats  

Studies have shown that eating processed meats – including frankfurts, fritz, salami, bacon and ham – is associated with an increased risk of bowel cancer.

Delicious options include vegetarian meals, chicken or fish. Leaner cuts of red meat are a better option than fatty red meat. Try to keep your serves of lean red meat to palm-sized, three to four times a week, or no more than 455g cooked/700g raw weight per week.

4. Have a go at cutting back on your alcohol consumption  

Even drinking moderate amounts of alcohol can increase your risk of bowel cancer (and other cancers too). The type of alcohol you drink makes no difference, all forms of alcohol increase the risk of developing some cancers.

Australian alcohol guidelines recommend drinking no more than 10 standard drinks per week and no more than four standard drinks on any one day.

What is a standard drink? One standard drink has 10 grams of pure alcohol. Some examples of a standard drink include:

  • 100 ml wine (13 per cent alc/vol)
  • 30 ml spirits e.g. whiskey, rum, gin, vodka (40 per cent alc/vol)
  • 1 South Australian pint of light beer (2.7 per cent alc/vol)
  • 1 South Australian schooner of full strength/regular beer or cider (4.9 per cent alc/vol).

We appreciate the challenges of cutting back drinking when a lot of social settings involve alcohol. Inspired to try cutting down? Sign up alongside other South Aussies to participate in Dry July.

5. Take steps to quit smoking

There are many benefits to quitting smoking and reducing your risk of bowel cancer is one of them. Quitting smoking is a process that is different for everyone, but those thinking of quitting can follow three simple steps to get started:

  1. Understand why you smoke
  2. Make a plan
  3. Get support

For more information and support about how to quit smoking, call Quitline on 13 7848 or visit Quitline provides practical, confidential and non-judgemental support to assist you to plan your Quit journey.

6. Take part in bowel screening

If bowel cancer is found at an early stage, the chances of surviving are higher. 90 per cent of bowel cancers could be successfully treated if found early.

To find early signs of bowel cancer, it is recommended all Australians aged 50-74 participate in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program every two years. People in this age group will receive a free bowel screening test kit every two years in the mail as part of the program. Complete your test kit as soon as it arrives.

If you didn’t receive a kit, or your kit was lost or has expired you can re-order one here.

Screening is important because if participation in the program reaches and is sustained at 60 per cent, we could save 84,000 lives by 2040.

For more information about bowel screening, visit

Learn more about how you can reduce your cancer risk.

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