Almost 42,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK.
More than nine out of ten new cases (94%) are diagnosed in people over the age of 50, and nearly six out of ten cases (59%) are diagnosed in people aged 70 or over. But bowel cancer can affect anyone of any age. More than 2,500 new cases are diagnosed each year in people under the age of 50.
What is bowel cancer?
Bowel cancer is also called colorectal cancer. It affects the large bowel, which is made up of the colon and rectum.
The cells in your body normally divide and grow in a controlled way. When cancer develops, the cells change and can grow in an uncontrolled way.
Most bowel cancers develop from pre-cancerous growths, called polyps. But not all polyps develop into cancer. If your doctor finds any polyps, he or she can remove them to prevent them becoming cancerous.
What are the causes of bowel cancer?
The exact causes of bowel cancer are unknown however as stated above, most bowel cancers develop from pre-cancerous growths, called polyps. However, there are some factors that increase the risk of developing bowel cancer. These are:
- Aged over 50;
- A strong family history of bowel cancer;
- A history of non-cancerous growths (polyps) in your bowel;
- Longstanding inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis;
- Type 2 diabetes;
- An unhealthy lifestyle.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of bowel (colorectal) cancer in men and women can include:
- bleeding from the back passage (rectum) or blood in your poo;
- a change in your normal bowel habit, such as looser poo, pooing more often or constipation;
- a lump that your doctor can feel in your back passage or tummy (abdomen), more commonly on the right side;
- a feeling of needing to strain in your back passage (as if you need to poo), even after opening your bowels;
- losing weight;
- pain in your abdomen or back passage;
- tiredness and breathlessness caused by a lower than normal level of red blood cells (anaemia).
How is bowel cancer diagnosed?
You usually start by seeing your GP. They will ask you about your general health and symptoms and will also examine you. This might include an examination of your back passage (rectum). Your doctor will then decide whether to do tests or refer you to a specialist.
If referred to a specialist, the following tests may be performed:
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy;
- CT colonography;
- Blood tests.
What is the treatment for bowel cancer?
Treatment for bowel cancer depends on which part of the bowel is affected and how far the cancer has spread.
However, surgery is usually the main form of treatment and may be combined with chemotherapy, radiotherapy or biological treatments depending on the particular case.
If the cancer is detected early enough, treatment can cure bowel cancer and stop it coming back. If the cancer is too advanced for treatment to be curative, the symptoms can be slowed using a combination of treatments.
Johnathan Steventon-Kiy, specialist medical negligence lawyer, says:
“As with any sort of cancer, the earlier it is caught the better the chances will be of a good prognosis. If you, or someone you know, have the sorts of symptoms set out above, advice from a healthcare professional should be sought as soon as possible. If you have been diagnosed with bowel cancer and you suspect that this was missed by a health professional, contact us to obtain free advice on whether you may have a claim.”