Bowel Cancer

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Bowel (or colon) cancer is the popular term used to refer to colo-rectal cancer. Most of these cancers occur in the colon which forms part of the intestines and about one third of such cancers occur in the rectum where the large intestine joins the anus.
It is malignant tumours which are cancerous. There are benign lesions of the bowel which can, if left untreated and over time, evolve into a cancer.  They can be removed at the time of a colonoscopy so removing the risk of transformation.


Who is at risk of colon cancer?

There are around 35,000 new cases of bowel cancer diagnosed in the UK every year, eight out of ten occurring in the over 60s. Certain factors are believed to raise or lower incidence levels.


Higher risk factors


  • Obesity

  • High alcohol intake

  • Red meat

  • Processed meat


Lower risk factors

  • Aspirin like painkillers

  • HRT

  • Low fat and high fibre diet

What are the symptoms of bowel cancer?

There are a number of worrying symptoms which may indicate bowel cancer however, these may be indicative of other conditions as well. It cannot be emphasised enough that the only way for a correct diagnosis to be made is for a surgeon to carry out an investigation. That said the following would be cause for someone to seek advice:

  • a change in bowel habit (eg more frequent visits to the toilet)

  • bleeding

  • chronic tiredness

  • abdominal pain

  • unexplained weight loss


Early on there may be no symptoms and checking for blood in the stool (FOB testing) may be a useful screening test. Once a cancer is identified assessment by CT scanning is usually required primarily to define if the disease has spread or not and to help tailor treatment accordingly.


Are there risks of surgery ?

The main risk of an operation that involves joining the ends of the bowel together after the cancerous segment has been removed is that this join may leak.  Anastomotic leakage is uncommon (around 5%), but it can be dangerous if it does occur.  It may even require a second operation and the creation of a colostomy (or bag on the abdominal wall).  All the risks from surgery are usually much less than those risks of leaving a bowel cancer untreated.


How effective is the treatment?

If diagnosed early and before the cancer has spread from the bowel these treatments are very effective and most patients can be cured of the disease.

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