Bowel cancer

Bowel cancer can usually be treated when diagnosed at an early stage

Typically, when diagnosed at an early stage, the treatment of bowel cancer can be highly successful.

Bowel cancer screening tests make it possible to also spot early signs of bowel cancer before it even develops.

Specialist advice is available so you can feel reassured that you are getting the highest level of healthcare to diagnose and treat the symptoms you are experiencing.

Symptoms of bowel cancer

Bowel cancer symptoms vary and can also be similar to those experienced for other gastroenterological conditions.

Common symptoms can include:

  • Frequent diarrhoea or loose bowel movements
  • Frequent passing of blood in your stools
  • Change in bowel habit
  • Persistent abdominal pain
  • Bloating or discomfort caused by eating
  • Unintentional weight loss and loss of appetite
  • Shortness of breath
  • Anaemia or low blood count
  • Excessive tiredness, linked to anaemia

The symptoms of bowel cancer may not necessarily make you feel unwell, however they are usually persistent, so it is important to listen to your body and pay attention on the duration and frequency of bowel habits and any frequent abdominal pain.

Bowel cancer however can sometimes be present with no symptoms at all. This is why bowel cancer screening is so important for people of a certain age, plus if you have a family history of bowel polyps or of bowel cancer.

Consultation with a specialist, who can conduct the necessary diagnosis tests, is the first step to better understanding your symptoms.

About bowel cancer

Bowel cancer, also known as colon cancer or colorectal cancer, affects the large bowel or colon.
  • The risk of getting bowel cancer is 7% for men and 5% for women
  • Each year 41,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in the UK
  • 80% of cases relate to people over 60 years of age with 90% of cases relating to people over 50
  • 2500 young people, under age 50, are also diagnosed each year
  • Current statistics show that 57% of people diagnosed with bowel cancer will survive for 10 years
  • If the cancer is diagnosed in Stage 1 of development, there is almost 100% chance of recovery
  • Bowel cancer detected in Stage 4 means the average survival rate falls to around 40%
  • Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK
  • It is the second biggest cancer killer in the UK
  • Bowel cancer screening is available for anyone over age 50
  • Bowel cancer screening saves lives as it detects bowel polyps before they turn into cancerous cells

The exact cause of bowel cancer is not known, however there is an increased risk associated with:

  • Age – bowel cancer is most common in over 50 year olds
  • Diet – particularly a high intake of red or processed meat with a low intake of fibre
  • Weight – being obese or overweight and generally inactive
  • Alcohol and smoking
  • Family history – if an immediate relative developed bowel cancer under age 50, your lifetime risk is higher than most and screening is required even before you turn 50.

Bowel cancer diagnosis

The only way to truly diagnose bowel cancer is to get tested by a gastroenterologist. There are a number of examinations that can accurately diagnose bowel cancer and assess the stage of development.

These tests include:

A primary test for bowel cancer could involve a simple stool test, where the doctor is looking
for blood or abnormal DNA.

Seeing blood may not mean cancer as there are other conditions that could be causing this
symptom.

If there is blood though, you are likely to require further testing for bowel cancer to consider all
options.

A CT scan can be performed to assess the colon, looking for signs of bowel cancer or bowel polyps.

It is useful as a non-invasive test, however sometimes polyps can be missed and also no tissue samples can be taken, so if anything looks abnormal then a full colonoscopy would be required.

A flexible sigmoidoscopy is more accurate than a CT colonoscopy and is commonly used to detect the signs of bowel cancer.

This examination is invasive but only looks at the last part of the colon, so risk of a perforation
is very low, at approx 1 in 10,000, and sedation isn’t usually required.

If any bowel polyps are discovered then a colonoscopy will be required.

A colonoscopy is the most effective way to detect bowel cancer.

This examination is invasive and assesses the entire length of the colon, using a special endoscope with a bright light and a camera, called a colonoscope.

Bowel polyps that are found can actually be snipped off during the colonoscopy, which aids prevention.

Whilst risk is still low, there is a chance of perforating the lining of the bowel during the test,
which happens usually 1 in every 1000 cases.

Bowel cancer screening saves lives

Bowel cancer screening is a way to detect the early signs of bowel cancer before the cancer develops.

By carrying out the usual diagnosis tests, small bowel polyps can be spotted, even if you don’t have any related symptoms.

The colonscopy can snip any colon polyps during the procedure, preventing them from turning into cancerous cells in the future.

If the doctor does detect bowel polyps then you can be regularly assessed therefore reducing the risk of letting cancer develop.

Bowel cancer screening is thought to prevent two people from getting bowel cancer, for every 300 screening tests. This will also prevent one person from dying of bowel cancer, as success of treatment is largely linked to the stage in which the cancer can be diagnosed.

Find out more regarding the benefits of bowel cancer screening

Bowel cancer treatment

The success of bowel cancer treatment is linked to the stage of bowel cancer as well as the exact location within the bowel and whether it has spread.

Treatments may include:

  • Radiotherapy – using radiation to attack cancer cells
  • Chemotherapy – using medication to attack cancer cells
  • Biological treatments – to help prevent the cancer from spreading, and assists chemotherapy
  • Surgery – where part of the bowel, or the entire bowel is removed.
    • This is often the most effective way to treat bowel cancer, particularly if the cancer is contained to the bowel.
    • In some cases keyhole surgery is appropriate, which generally means a faster recovery and less pain during the procedure.
    • If the bowel is removed, then a colostomy or an ileostomy bag acts as a replacement to the bowel, allowing food waste to pass through a new opening, called a stoma.

Bowel cancer that is detected in Stage 1 of development typically stands almost 100% chance of recovery, as cancerous bowel polyps can be removed and then carefully monitored for new growths.

Surgery is most likely with Stage 4 bowel cancer.

Read FAQs about bowel cancer treatment

Your health is our goal

Whether your symptoms are recent or you have been suffering with a gastrointestinal condition over the longer term, specialist healthcare is available to help reduce, or relieve the pain and discomfort you are experiencing.

To arrange a consultation, please contact our specialist team.