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Colon/Bowel cancer


What is Colon cancer?

Colon cancer, also known as colon and rectal cancer, is a cancer that develops as a result of abnormal changes in the cells that line the bowel. The bowel is part of the digestive system, it is divided into the small bowel (small intestine) and the large bowel (colon and rectum). The majority of cancers develop in the large bowel.

digestive system diagramStatistically speaking, cancer in all its various forms affects one in three people in the U.K. Of these, around 30,000 people in the U.K. are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year, which makes it one of the commonest cancers in this country. The good news is, if bowel cancer is caught early the cure rate can be as high as 90%.

What causes bowel cancer?

In the majority of cases it is not known why the cancer developed. However, people who have a rare disease called Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (F.A.P.), have an increased risk of developing bowel cancer. F.A.P. is a condition which causes benign tumours, called polyps to develop in the bowel. Over time these polyps can develop into cancer.

There is also evidence to suggest you are more at risk of developing bowel cancer if your normal diet is high in animal fats and calories but low in fibre.

What symptoms are associated with bowel cancer?

The most common symptom of bowel cancer is a change in bowel habit, e.g. constipation, bleeding or diarrhoea. Other symptoms of bowel cancer may include any of the following:-

  • Fresh blood in the stools or black stools.
  • Loss of weight.
  • Anaemia.
  • Large amounts of mucus being passed with the stools.
  • Discomfort or pain in the abdomen or back passage.

All these symptoms can be caused by other diseases, so if you have any change in bowel habit that persists for more than 2 weeks, you should make an appointment to see your doctor. Unfortunately, many patients do not have any symptoms until the disease is in an advanced stage.

Am I at risk from bowel cancer?

Some people are at greater risk of developing bowel cancer, than others. These risks may include any of the following :-

  • If you have a tendency to develop polyps.
  • Age – men and women over the age of 50.
  • A family history of the disease.
  • Previous bowel cancer – if you have the disease before you are more at risk of it returning.

Is there anything I can do to reduce the risk?

To help protect yourself against bowel cancer aim to eat a diet rich in fresh vegetables, fruit and fibre. Cut down on high fat products, cut visible fats off meat and limit the alcohol you drink. You should also aim to have 20 minutes of moderate exercise 3-5 times a week.

Who is screened for bowel cancer?

If your doctor believes you are in a high risk group e.g. a strong family history of bowel cancer then you may be routinely screened. This screening will usually be an examination of the inside of your bowel, every 3-5 years. If you have had polyps removed from your bowel in the past, your doctor may also suggest you are screened every 5 years.

Home tests for the early detection of blood in stools.

Achieving a complete cure of bowel cancer depends on early diagnosis. We strongly recommend our bowel disorder test for anyone who is over the age of 50. Cancers of the colon and bowel often bleed and may show in your stool, the test we sell detects small amounts of blood in the stool .

Please be aware a positive result from our test does not necessarily mean you have bowel cancer, but could be a less serious condition such as piles, polyps or an ulcer. However, not all bowel cancers bleed, so if you receive a negative result, and still have other symptoms you should still consult your doctor.

The Colon Cancer Concern charity recommends home tests for bowel/colon cancer – “In the absence of a national screening program, we feel it may be helpful for people over the age of 50 to have access to a faecal occult blood test that they can do themselves in the home, because for many people diagnosis is late and cancer is well developed”

How is bowel cancer diagnosed?

If your doctor refers you to a hospital for further tests you will normally have a physical examination, this will include the doctor examining your back passage to check for any lumps or swellings. You may also have an X-ray and a blood test.

After the initial tests, you will then normally have a sigmoidoscopy. This test involves a thin tube being passed through your back passage to look inside the bowel, to see if any polyps that could develop into cancer are present. If there are any polyps, they can be snipped off straight away and taken for analysis under a microscope. If the doctor wants to look at the whole bowel you may have a test called a colonoscopy. This test is similar to a sigmoidoscopy, but the tube is longer and more flexible. During the test, photographs and samples ( biopsy) are taken of the large bowel. On the day you have the colonoscopy you will usually be given a laxative to empty the bowel.

How is bowel cancer treated?

This cancer fortunately can often be cured by surgery and new treatments are available which can improve the results of this surgery (it has a 90% cure rate if treated early and localised). The treatment you receive will depend on the type and extent of the cancer and your general health. The main treatment for bowel cancer is usually surgery, to remove the cancer. Chemotherapy or radiotherapy may also be used along with the surgery to ensure the cancer is destroyed.