bowel cancer - digestive doctor

Bowel Cancer

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

We know a diagnosis of cancer will be frightening but when diagnosed at an early stage bowel cancer can be highly treatable. Bowel cancer screening tests make it possible to also spot early signs of bowel cancer before it even develops. Our doctors and specialists are here to advise you at all stages from bowel cancer screening to diagnosis. We can answer any of your questions and concerns. You can be reassured you are in safe hands – our team of GI doctors offer experienced specialist advice and care to reassure you that will get the highest level of healthcare to diagnose and treat you.

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Consultation with a specialist and diagnosis is the first step to feeling better

    About Bowel Cancer

    Bowel cancer, also known as colon cancer or colorectal cancer, affects the large bowel or colon.
    The general risk of developing bowel cancer is 7% for men and 5% for women and every year 41,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in the UK alone. 90% of cases are diagnosed in people over 50 years of age which is why we recommend regular screening. If bowel cancer is diagnosed early (Stage 1) there is an almost 100% chance of cure

    What Causes Bowel Cancer?

    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
    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.
    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
    Previous history of colon polyps

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    Symptoms of Bowel Cancer

    Common symptoms can include:

    • A change in bowel habit from your usual frequency and consistency
    • Frequent diarrhoea or loose bowel movements
    • Frequent passing of blood in your stools (bright blood or mixed into the stool)
    • A sensation of not having emptied your bowels fully
    • Unexplained abdominal pain
    • Bloating or discomfort caused by eating
    • Unintentional weight loss and loss of appetite
    • Anaemia or low blood count
    • Excessive tiredness, linked to anaemia

     

    Symptoms of bowel cancer may not make you feel unwell but they are usually persistent, so it is important to be aware of your body and pay attention to any distinct alteration to your normal patterns.

    Bowel cancer symptoms can be similar to other Gi disorders or even have no symptoms at all. This explains why bowel cancer screening is so important for people of a certain age. Awareness of your family history of bowel polyps or bowel cancer is essential so you know to attend regular screening

    Bowel Cancer Diagnosis

    To diagnose bowel cancer you will need to get tested by a GI specialist.
    There are a number of examinations that can accurately diagnose bowel cancer and assess its stage of development.

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    Stool Test

    A simple assessment of your stools can show signs of bowel cancer, such as blood, or abnormal DNA. Blood may not necessarily mean that you have bowel cancer, however, if the doctor sees anything unusual, they will refer you for a colonoscopy.

    Flexible Sigmoidoscopy

    A flexible sigmoidoscopy procedure is used to check for bowel cancer in the last part of the colon and the rectum, passing a flexible camera (on a thin agile tube) up through the back passage. An enema is needed prior to the procedure. When necessary a biopsy (tissue sample) can be taken, or a polyp can be entirely removed.

    Colonoscopy

    The colonoscopy is similar to the sigmoidoscopy but allows us to assess the entire length of the colon. It requires laxatives prior to the procedure so that clear views are obtained. A thin, agile tube with a camera and bright light, called a colonoscope, is inserted into the back passage and can work all the way up to the top of the colon and back down again, whilst projecting images onto a screen for the doctor to see. It is the best examination for bowel cancer and if any other prior test shows anything unusual, then a colonoscopy is usually needed. Sometimes patients just opt for a colonoscopy in the first instance to ensure that results are the most accurate available.

    CT Colonoscopy

    The “virtual” colonoscopy uses a CT scan to assess the colon. It is an effective, non-invasive test to spot bowel polyps and signs of cancer. However, it has limitations as small polyps hide in the many twists and turns in the colon, which can get missed when assessment is made via a scan.

    Bowel Cancer Screening Tests
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    Bowel cancer screening is a way to detect the early signs of bowel cancer before cancer develops. Bowel cancer screening procedures look inside the colon for growths on the bowel wall, called polyps. Some colonic polyps are non-cancerous and will remain so, but others have the risk of developing into cancer, which can grow and spread to other organs. Screening will be taken by one of the following tests:

    By carrying out diagnostic tests, small bowel polyps can be spotted and removed, even if you don’t have any related symptoms. If your doctor does detect bowel polyps then you will be regularly assessed by surveillance endoscopy thereby reducing the risk of developing cancer.

    Bowel cancer screening is thought to prevent two people from getting bowel cancer, for every 300 screening tests performed. 

     

    This will also prevent one person from dying of bowel cancer, as the earlier bowel cancer is detected the more treatable it is. Find out more regarding the benefits of bowel cancer screening.

    Bowel Cancer Treatment

    Bowel cancer that is detected in Stage 1 of development typically stands an almost 100% chance of recovery, as cancerous bowel polyps can be removed and then carefully monitored for new growths. If your cancer has progressed to stage 4 it is likely we will be looking at surgery.

    Treatments include

    Radiotherapy – using radiation to attack cancer cells
    Chemotherapy and biological therapy – using medication to attack cancer cells
    Surgery – where the affected part of the large bowel is removed. This is the most effective way to treat bowel cancer, particularly if the cancer is limited to the bowel. It can usually be performed using keyhole surgery which means a faster recovery, small scars and less pain after the procedure.

    In some cases, dependent on the location of the growth, surgery may lead to the need for a stoma where the bowel opens onto the skin on the front of the abdomen. This can be an ileostomy or a colostomy. It can be permanent or temporary. This will all be discussed with you prior to surgery so that you are fully aware of the implications for you.
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    Read FAQs about bowel cancer treatment

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