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Cabrini’s Professor McMurrick urges greater awareness of colorectal (bowel) cancer following World Health Day


Senior man with stomach pain

Professor Paul McMurrick, Head of Cabrini’s Department of Surgery and an expert in colorectal (bowel) cancer, has observed first hand a rise in the number of people under the age of 50 diagnosed with cancer. Following World Health Day, he has urged Australians to prioritise their annual check-ups with their General Practitioners (GPs) and to discuss their bowel cancer screening strategy.

Professor McMurrick estimates that 17,000 Australians are affected by bowel cancer each year, both men and women. A regular consultation with a GP is essential for early detection and prevention of bowel cancer. Your GP can determine the most appropriate screening program for you by discussing your individual risk factors, such as family history or age.

“Bowel Cancer is not just an illness that affects older individuals,” said Professor Paul McMurrick. Recent analyses of cancer rates among under-50s have shown increasing incidence rates that cannot be fully explained by the introduction of screening programs, which typically focus on older populations.

Data collected by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) shows that the percentage of colorectal cancers diagnosed in people under 40 has increased significantly. About 2 percent of colorectal cancers were diagnosed in this age group in 2000. As of 2021, this percentage had risen to 6%.

In 2022, Nature published a study echoing this increase. An analysis of data from several countries, including Australia and England, found that common types of cancer are increasingly diagnosed in individuals under 50. An “early-onset cancer epidemic” was described by researchers.

“The rise in early-onset cancer diagnoses is a concerning trend that requires further investigation and action. It is important for individuals to be aware of the signs and symptoms of cancer, as well as the importance of regular screenings and early detection,” said Professor McMurrick. “Patients from age 40 can also consider purchasing a self-funded FOB kit after discussing the pros and cons with their doctor.

National Bowel Cancer Screening Program

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) offers free screening kits to eligible individuals. In these kits, individuals collect a stool sample at home and send it to a lab for analysis. Bowel cancer can be detected by faecal occult blood (FOB) tests. Participating in this program allows individuals to make informed health decisions. Professor McMurrick said the NBCSP plays a vital role in detecting and preventing bowel cancer. “It’s important to note, that not everyone is suitable for this program. That’s why it’s important to have a conversation with your GP about your bowel cancer risk and the most appropriate screening strategy for you.”

Cabrini’s Precision Medicine

Cabrini is making a significant contribution to reducing the burden of this disease. Cabrini has been leading world-class research for decades, providing patients with the latest treatments, technologies, and innovations. “We are committed to advancing medicine and improving patient outcomes,” said Professor McMurrick.

Traditional cancer treatment has been based on the type and location of the cancer.  Professor McMurrick explained that precision oncology respects the uniqueness of every cancer patient. According to the genetic makeup of the tumour, “we can tailor treatment plans to target cancer cells more effectively while doing minimal damage to healthy tissues.” According to the Professor, “Precision Medicine at Cabrini will revolutionise cancer care in the future.”

Cabrini Monash Colorectal Neoplasia Database

The Cabrini Monash Colorectal Neoplasia Database (CMCND) represents a paradigm shift in healthcare delivery, offering patients unprecedented access to targeted therapies and clinical trials that hold the potential to improve health outcomes. The Database was established by Professor McMurrick in 2010 as Australia’s first internet-based colorectal neoplasia database and funded by Let’s Beat Bowel Cancer.

The CMCND contains comprehensive patient information, including family history, genetic abnormalities, and co-morbidities. The Database helps researchers and medical professionals understand colorectal cancer genetics, treatment options, and patient outcomes. Personalised treatment plans can be developed using the knowledge gained.

The Colorectal Surgical Society of Australia and New Zealand adopted the Database in 2013 as the Binational Colorectal Cancer Audit (BCCA). More than 170 sites across Australia and New Zealand contribute to the BCCA today.

In addition to shedding light on this important issue, Professor McMurrick and his team at Cabrini have made significant progress in addressing it through their research and interventions.

“At Cabrini, we are committed to pushing the boundaries of medical research and providing patients with the best possible care. Our ground-breaking research, combined with our commitment to personalised treatment, sets us apart as a leading institution in the fight against cancer,” said Professor McMurrick.

Following World Health Day, we are reminded of the ongoing battle against bowel cancer. Regardless of age, “let’s work to eliminate bowel cancer together,” added Professor McMurrick.

For more information about bowel cancer screening and prevention at Cabrini, please visit