Bowel cancer is one of the common types of cancer. Get all the facts here

Bowel cancer is a general term for cancer that begins in your large bowel.

Depending on where the cancer starts, bowel cancer is sometimes called colon or rectal cancer.

Most people who are diagnosed with bowel cancer are over 60 years old, but it is one of the most common types of cancer in the UK.

That means we all need to know the symptoms and what to look out for.

There are three main symptoms of bowel cancer:

  • Persistent blood in your poo that happens for no obvious reason, or is associated with a change in bowel habit.
  • A persistent change in your bowel habit which is usually having to poo more, and your poo may also become more runny.
  • Persistent lower abdominal pain, bloating or discomfort that’s always caused by eating and may be associated with loss of appetite or significant unintentional weight loss.

When should I get medical advice?

If you’ve been experiencing these symptoms for three weeks, then you should get in touch with your GP.

They may decide to do any of the following:

  • Examine your tummy and bottom to make sure you have no lumps
  • Arrange for a simple blood test to check for iron deficiency anaemia – this can show whether there’s any bleeding from your bowel that you may not know about
  • Arrange for you to have a simple test in hospital

What causes bowel cancer?

The exact cause of bowel cancer is not known, but there are a number of things that can increase your risk, including:

  • Age: almost 90% of people with bowel cancer are aged 60 or over
  • Diet: a diet high in red or processed meats and low in fibre can increase your risk
  • Weight: bowel cancer is more common in overweight or obese people
  • Lack of exercise
  • Alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Family history: having a close relative who developed bowel cancer under the age of 50 puts you at a greater risk of developing the condition. If this is you, then you should be offered screening and you should discuss this with a GP.

Some people also have an increased risk of bowel cancer because they’ve had another condition, such as extensive ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease in the colon for more than 10 years.

What is Bowel cancer screening?

To detect cases of bowel cancer sooner, everyone aged 60 to 74 who is registered with a GP and lives in England is automatically sent a bowel cancer screening home test kit every two years.

For the screening test, you use a home test kit to collect a small sample of poo and send it to a lab. This is checked for tiny amounts of blood. Blood can be a sign of polyps or bowel cancer. Polyps are growths in the bowel that may turn into cancer over time.

How do you treat bowel cancer?

Bowel cancer can be treated using a combination of different treatments depending on where the cancer is in your bowel and how far it has spread.

The main treatments are:

  • Surgery – the cancerous section of the bowel is removed. This is the most effective way to treat bowel cancer and in many cases it will be all the treatment that you need
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiotherapy
  • Targeted therapies


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