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Bad habits linked to bowel cancer in blokes

Thursday 16 June, 2011

Cancer Council Victoria is encouraging Victorian blokes to cut back on booze, get active and watch their waistline this Men's Health Week in order to prevent bowel cancer - a cancer that kills 761 Victorian men each year.

Craig Sinclair, Director of the Cancer Prevention Centre at Cancer Council Victoria, said there were proven links between bowel cancer and lifestyle factors such as obesity, alcohol, diet and inactivity.   

"Recent Australian Institute of Health and Welfare research (1) has shown that around two-thirds of adult males and one-quarter of boys (aged 5-17 years) are overweight or obese, only 5% of Aussie men are consuming enough fruit and vegetables and more than half don't undertake sufficient physical activity to derive any health benefits," he said.

"Combine this with figures that show more than half of Australian males are drinking alcohol on either a daily or weekly basis and you've got a pattern of behaviour that could likely increase the risk of certain chronic conditions including bowel cancer."

Mr Sinclair said that while diet, physical activity and weight were well-known risk factors for bowel cancer, recently released figures had shown for the first time convincing evidence of the link between alcohol and bowel cancer in men. The figures estimate that around 7% of all bowel cancers in Australian men are attributable to alcohol - this equates to more than 500 cases each year.

"Previous estimations have pre-dated the link between alcohol and bowel cancer. Given the high incidence of bowel cancer in Australia, this means historically we have substantially underestimated the true burden of alcohol-related cancer in Australia," said Mr Sinclair.

Mr Sinclair said that Men's Health Week (13-19 June 2011) was an ideal time to prompt men to consider lifestyle habits that may be contributing to their cancer risk.

Bowel cancer kills 73 Australians each week yet if found early, over 90% of cases can be cured.

"Early detection is crucial to beating bowel cancer. Cancer Council therefore recommends doing a simple at-home screening test called a faecal occult blood test (FOBT) every two years from the age of 50 to help find it as early as possible," said Mr Sinclair.

"If people want to improve their health and reduce their risk of cancer and other chronic diseases, the best approach is to maintain a healthy weight by eating well and exercising and avoiding known carcinogens like tobacco smoke and alcohol."

For more information: Cancer Council Australia Alcohol and Cancer Position Statement

1 AIHW 2011. The health of Australia's males. Cat. no. PHE 141. Canberra: AIHW.