It's Bowel Cancer Awareness Month in June, and the latest stats reveal bowel cancer (symptoms of which include gas, a change in bowel habits, bleeding and in some cases, anaemia) has started affecting young women, just like you.
The numbers: by the year 2020, the incidence among those aged 20 to 34 is predicted to increase by 37 per cent, according to a 2014 report by University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. By 2030? Up to 90 per cent. The outlook is similarly grim for those aged 35 to 49.
In Australia, while the percentage of bowel cancer cases in under-50s is recorded at seven per cent, experts believe the proportion is higher.
"Recent US figures revealed about 15 per cent of people who get bowel cancer in Australia are under 50, according to Graham Newstead, a colorectal surgeon and director of Bowel Cancer Australia. "Our new figures are due in a couple of years and I think they'll be similar."
According to Dr Felice Schnoll-Sussman, director of the Jay Monahan Center for Gastrointestinal Health, says you should get to know your bowel habits, and speak to your GP if you have any concerns. There are three things in particular you should look out for - here are the comparisons of 'probably ok' situations and 'probably not' ok...
Bright-red blood in the toilet bowl or on your paper post-pooping. It could indicate a small anal tear or a typically harmless haemorrhoid.
Darker blood (think maroon or almost black) that's intertwined with stool might signal colon bleeding.
A stretch (even a week or two) of constipation or straining. Yes, we mean pushing like a pro with little to show for it. Hint: you might be dehydrated.
Out-of-nowhere prolonged constipation (more than a month), together with narrow or thin, pencil-like stools, which could mean a roadblock in the colon.
Cramping or bloating that makes it hard to button your jeans.
Daily pain fierce enough to interrupt your sleep or force you to change your routine. See your GP, stat. Can't get an appointment? Enter your location into Healthengine.com.au - it shows available slots at nearby practices, then lets you book.
Nutrition is also very important in preventing bowel cancer, here's what you should try and power up your plate with...
- Dairy: Both calcium and vitamin D - especially when eaten together - may help fight bowel cancer
- Less red meat: Scale down to around 500g per week (about three lunches' or dinners' worth), and skip processed meats.
- Spice: Specifically curcumin, an active ingredient in turmeric. Research shows it might prevent or slow the growth of malignancies.
- Produce: Especially artichokes, apples and pears, which are rich in gut-protective fibre. Studies tie high fruit and vegie intake to reduced bowel cancer risk. Make them half your meal.