Bowel cancer is one of the most common cancers in the UK and almost nine out of 10 cases are diagnosed in people over the age of 60. However, if it is caught in the early stages, there is a greater than 90% chance of a cure. Read our article to get to know what’s normal and what you should get checked out when it comes to your bowel health.
What do you know about the bowel?
The bowel is part of the digestive system and it's made up of the small bowel (small intestine) and the large bowel (colon and rectum).
When we talk about bowel cancer, we generally refer to colorectal cancer (as cancers of the small bowel are extremely rare).
What are the symptoms of bowel cancer?
Bowel cancer is treatable, but the quicker it’s diagnosed, the easier it is to treat. Diagnosis at an early stage means a much better chance of a successful outcome.
If you have any symptoms, do not ignore them, and more importantly don’t be embarrassed. Doctors are used to seeing many people with bowel problems, and the sooner you are checked out the better. Bowel cancer develops from polyps (a tiny bump of cells inside the bowel). Although most polyps remain benign, one in 10 will turn into cancer.
Symptoms of bowel cancer can include:
- Bleeding from your bottom and/or blood in your poo
- A persistent and unexplained change in bowel habit
- Unexplained weight loss
- Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason
- A pain or lump in your tummy
Most people with these symptoms don’t have cancer; other health problems can cause similar symptoms. It’s important to get checked out by your GP if you have one or more of these or if something doesn’t feel right.
There are several causes of bleeding from your bottom or blood in your bowel movements (poo). For example bright red blood may come from swollen blood vessels (haemorrhoids or piles), bloody diarrhoea can be due to irritable bowel disease or a tummy bug and dark red or black blood may be due to iron tablets or eating certain foods to name just a few causes. Tell your doctor about any bleeding so they can find out what is causing it.
Changes in bowel habits
Tell your GP if you have noticed any persistent and unexplained changes in your bowel habit, especially if you also have bleeding from your back passage. You may have looser poo and you may need to poo more often than normal or you may feel as though you're not going to the toilet often enough or you might feel as though you're not fully emptying your bowels.
This is less common than some of the other symptoms. Speak to your GP if you have lost weight and you don't know why. You may not feel like eating if you feel sick, bloated or if you just don't feel hungry.
Bowel cancer may lead to a lack of iron in the body, which can cause anaemia (lack of red blood cells). If you have anaemia, you can feel very tired and your skin may look pale.
Pain or lump in your stomach
You may have pain or a lump in your stomach area (abdomen) or back passage. See your GP if these symptoms don’t go away or if they’re affecting how you sleep or eat.
What else could it be?
Your symptoms could be caused by some other common conditions that can be treated or monitored by your GP, such as:
- Piles (Haemorrhoids)
- Anal fissures
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Diverticular disease
- Crohn’s disease
- Ulcerative colitis
How common is bowel cancer?
Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK and the second biggest cancer killer. Around 268,000 people living in the UK today have been diagnosed with bowel cancer.
How many people survive bowel cancer?
Bowel cancer is treatable and curable especially if diagnosed early. Nearly everyone survives bowel cancer if diagnosed at the earliest stage. However, this drops significantly as the disease develops. Early diagnosis really does save lives.
What are the treatments for bowel cancer?
Treatment for bowel cancer will depend on which part of your bowel is affected and how far the cancer has spread.
Surgery is usually the main treatment for bowel cancer, and may be combined with chemotherapy, radiotherapy or biological treatments, depending on your particular case. Each person is different.
If it's detected early enough, treatment can cure bowel cancer and stop it coming back.
For further information
Simple steps for good bowel health
1. Eat well
Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day, and limit food and drinks high in fat or sugar such as sweets, cakes, crisps and fizzy drinks. They should only be eaten in small amounts.
2. Reduce alcohol intake
Alcohol is linked to seven types of cancer including bowel cancer, and it can also damage cells, making them more likely to becoming cancerous. For cancer prevention, it’s best not to drink alcohol at all.
3. Get moving
Getting physically active can also lower your risk of bowel cancer. Being active can also help you keep a healthy body weight and helps you make you feel good. Aiming for 30 minutes of activity five times a week – starting out with 10 minutes and increasing it gradually is the best way to do this.
Colonoscopy procedure at Benenden Hospital
A colonoscopy can check what’s causing your bowel symptoms by looking at the lining of your rectum and colon using a long, flexible tube called a colonoscope.
To contact us about a private colonoscopy procedure, complete our online enquiry form or contact our Private Patients team via Livechat or on 01580 363158.
Published on 01 April 2023