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Bowel Cancer

Bowel Cancer & Bowel Cancer Screening

Bowel cancer is a general term that is used to describe cancer that most often begins in the large bowel. It can sometimes also be referred to as colon cancer or rectal cancer. The colon and rectum belong to our body’s digestive system.

In England, bowel cancer is the third most common type of cancer, with more than 40,000 new cases diagnosed each year.

It is the third most common cancer in women after breast and lung cancer, and the third most common cancer in men after prostate and lung cancer.

Because of where the cancer is located people sometimes feel particularly embarrassed talking about faeces (poo) or bottoms and symptoms related to these. Sometimes people find it difficult to choose the right language in describing their symptoms, or feel that this part of their body is not something which is appropriate to talk about. It’s important not to reinforce this, and that instead we take steps to reduce the embarrassment.

Choose words that are suited to the situation that you are in. Often, you will find that, given the right prompts, people are very happy to be able to discuss their concerns.

Five year survival rates for bowel cancer have doubled over the past 40 years and we know that 90% of people will survive the disease for at least 5 years if it is identified early enough.

Below, watch two short videos. One is from Cancer Research UK and tells you more about the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer and why spotting it early is important. The other is from Greater Manchester Bowel Cancer Screening Programme and describes how to complete the bowel cancer screening kit.

Bowel Cancer Videos

Who is at risk?

A lifestyle which includes lack of exercise, poor diet and high alcohol consumption may increase your risk of bowel cancer.
A strong family history of bowel cancer can increase your own risk, as does having an existing bowel condition such as Crohn’s disease.

So called ‘westernised’ diets increase risk and diets with less red and processed meat, more vegetables and fibre are associated with reduced risk.

Smoking increases the risk.

Although it can be diagnosed in people of any age, 80% of people who are diagnosed with bowel cancer are aged over 60, and risk increases with age.

Other factors include diabetes (although we don’t know why) and being obese.

The great message about bowel cancer, which is important to share is, that caught early enough it has one of the best survival and treatment rates.

For example, trials show that people attending at least one round of screening with the faecal occult blood test (used in the NHS bowel cancer screening programme) have a 25% reduction in risk of death from bowel cancer.

Symptoms

Bowel cancer is a general term that is used to describe cancer that most often begins in the large bowel. It can sometimes be referred to as colon cancer or rectal cancer. The colon and rectum belong to our body’s digestive system.

Symptoms of bowel cancer include

  • Unexplained changes in bowel habits, such as prolonged diarrhoea or constipation
  • Blood in your stools (faeces or poo)
  • Pains in your stomach or rectum
  • Unexplained weight loss

Most of these symptoms can be caused by other diseases. These include piles (haemorrhoids), infections or inflammatory bowel disease. It is the combination of symptoms and age that is important and will alert your doctor to the possibility of bowel cancer.

Your doctor will take account of age and symptoms to decide whether there is a possibility of bowel cancer.

Prevention

Because the survival rates for bowel cancer increase so dramatically if it is identified early enough it is extremely important that people over a certain age visit a doctor if symptoms of bowel cancer present.

  • Encourage people to get to know their normal bowel habits so that they can easily recognise any changes, such as blood in the stool. Emphasise that changes, or stomach pain, which last for more than a few days should always be checked out by a doctor.
  • Eating a healthy diet, including at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, whole grain foods and fish.  Eating less saturated fat and no more than 80g a day of red and processed meat, such as bacon and ham
  • Not drinking more than the recommended daily alcohol limits of 3-4 units for men and 2-3 units for women
  • Taking regular exercise and trying to maintain a healthy weight
  • Giving up smoking. You’ll find plenty of support for free on the NHS Smokefree website http://www.nhs.uk/smokefree