Cancer occurs when cells in our body multiply out of control, producing lots of abnormal cells. These abnormal cells don't function like they should and can invade tissues or organs and sometimes spread to other parts of the body.
Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, includes cancer of the colon (which is the large intestine) and cancer of the rectum (which is the last few inches of the large intestine before it turns into the anus).
It is the third most common cancer in the US, affecting both men and women, and is more likely as we age. Certain genetic and lifestyle factors can increase your risk - we'll talk you through them.
Symptoms of bowel cancer include blood in the stool, a change in your bowel habits for more than a few weeks, and tending towards diarrhea but may also tend towards constipation too. Another symptom may be abdominal pain or discomfort and bloating.
It is important to note that most people with these symptoms do not have bowel cancer, but if they persist, occur with older individuals, or occur with symptoms like loss of appetite, fatigue, and unintentional weight loss - this should be discussed with a doctor urgently.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all adults aged 45-75 years be screened for colorectal cancer. Your doctor may recommend earlier testing if you are at higher risk. Results from this initial test will determine how often you should be rescreened.
Evidence shows you can reduce the risk of developing bowel cancer by eating a high-fiber diet with lots of fruit and vegetables and avoiding processed foods. You should avoid smoking and excessive alcohol intake to lower risk, and keep fit and maintain a healthy weight.
The exact cause of bowel cancer is unknown, but we do know things that increase your risk of developing bowel cancer. Some factors you have control over, and others you have no control over.
The things you can't change:
The things you can change:
If you have any symptoms of concern that persist for more than 3 weeks, you should see your doctor. This includes an unexplained change in bowel habit, persistent abdominal pain or bloating, blood in your stool, or unexplained fatigue or weight loss. If you have other risk factors or family history, discuss these with your doctor, as they may consider early testing.
Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms, relevant medical conditions, and medications, and whether any of your family has suffered bowel problems or cancer. They will feel your tummy, and they may suggest examining your rectum. They may measure your weight, so they can compare to previous and monitor this.
They will arrange for blood tests, looking for iron deficiency anemia, as this can indicate if there is any bleeding. If you are low risk, they may ask you to do a stool sample looking for blood. They will refer you urgently for colorectal testing if you are at high risk.
Bowel cancer has to be thoroughly investigated by specialists first to decide on the location of the disease and the severity (whether it has spread).
There are many ways of treating cancer, and which is chosen will depend on the area it is in, the cancer stage, and the patient’s choice and wishes. Options include surgery (where a surgeon cuts out all or part of the cancer), chemotherapy (strong medication that aims to kill cancer cells and stop them from multiplying), and radiotherapy (where radiation is targeted at the cancer cells to kill them).
Treatment could be one or a combination of these, and the aim may be to cure the cancer or to improve quality of life by shrinking the tumor to improve symptoms. Surgery alone can be very effective for cancer that has not spread and remains within the bowel.
Everyone always wants to know what their chances of surviving any cancer will be. Bear in mind that bowel cancer is much more common in the elderly, who may have other serious medical conditions. Survival rates depend on how early the cancer is diagnosed and whether it has spread to other body parts.
Was this helpful?
Was this helpful?