Screening, healthy diet vital for bowel cancer prevention

Healthy foods from the food groups image

By Cancer Council Victoria screening manager Kate Broun and dietitian Alison Ginn

Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer of men and women in Australia, after lung cancer. In Australia each year, about 17,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer, and more than 4000 people die of the disease.

Nine in 10 bowel cancers can be successfully treated with early detection. Bowel cancer can occur at any age, but the risk is greater for men and women over the age of 50 years.

A simple screening test, called a faecal occult blood test (FOBT), is recommended for healthy people aged over 50 and can detect early signs of bowel cancer before symptoms appear.

The test can be done at home, and involves taking a tiny sample from two separate bowel motions. Participants with positive results are advised to discuss their result with their doctor and undergo further testing. 

Health professionals can encourage people to take the FOBT through the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. The test is sent to eligible Australians aged over 50. More information is available from

Lifestyle factors are important too. Factors that can increase your risk of bowel cancer include being overweight; a diet high in fat or processed red meats; doing little physical activity; drinking alcohol and smoking.

Incredibly, if Australians increased their fibre intake by eating the recommended daily intakes of fruit and vegetables, an estimated 1,293 (8.8%) bowel cancers could be prevented each year. 

Here are some simple tips that health professionals can pass onto their patients to fit more fruit and veg into their diet:

  • Eat vegetables such as cherry tomatoes, carrots and snow peas as a snack to help you reach the recommended intake of five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit each day. 

  • Know your serving size. Knowing the amount of fruit and vegetables in each serve is the first step. One serve of fruit is 150 grams of fresh fruit (one medium piece, two small pieces or one cup of chopped fruit). One serve of veg is 75g (½ cup of cooked veg or legumes, ½ medium potato or 1 cup salad vegetables).

  • Enjoy seasonal fruit and vegetables. Seasonal fruit and vegetables are fresher and cheaper. When availability is limited, frozen fruit and vegetables are good alternatives, and during winter there is an abundance of warm and delicious options such as oranges, zucchini, broccoli, and pumpkin.

  • Swap crackers for veggie sticks. Serve raw veggie sticks, like carrot and cucumber with your dip for a healthier alternative to crackers or chips.

  • Top your breakfast cereal with fresh fruit. Chop and add fruits such as banana, pear, apple, mango or kiwifruit to your cereal or add a handful of berries.

  • Veg up your meals. Add mushrooms, asparagus and tomatoes to omelettes or on toast. Add grated veggies to pasta sauces and chopped veggies like pumpkin and peas to casseroles.

More healthy and delicious recipe ideas incorporating fruit and veggies are available here


1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare & Australasian Association of Cancer Registries 2014. Cancer in Australia - an overview 2014, p 49
2. Nagle, C. M., Wilson, L. F., Hughes, M. C. B. et al, Cancers in Australia in 2010 attributable to inadequate consumption of fruit, non-starchy vegetables and dietary fibre, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 2015, 39: 422–428.