Bowel cancer, also known as colon cancer, is the fourth most common cancer in the UK. The risk of getting bowel cancer in your lifetime is about 7% for men and 5% for women. Age plays an important part, as 80% of cases are in people over the age of 60.
It is vital to not ignore the early signs and symptoms, or if you have a family history of this condition. Screening is also essential as sometimes with bowel cancer there are no symptoms.
Even mild symptoms are worth checking with a doctor or specialist. If the symptoms are unrelated, or can be treated easily, then you can feel reassured that you have received expert advice.
For peace of mind, ensure you seek the help of those trained to diagnose and treat gastroenterological conditions such as bowel cancer.
Whilst most cases of bowel cancer are in people over 60 years of age, anyone is at risk.
Spotting the early signs isn’t always easy though as they could be mistaken for other gastroenterological conditions. This is why specialist advice is recommended, to check all possibilities.
Symptoms can include a change in bowel habit, so it is important to be mindful if you notice reoccurring changes. Having loose stools on a regular basis, or, having a passage of fresh blood in your poo, can also be early signs of bowel cancer.
If you have a low blood count or anaemia, with low iron stores, then this could be a sign that you may be bleeding from your bowel. A feeling of excessive tiredness or short of breath may require a blood test for anaemia.
Bowel cancer growths can, and do, bleed. If the cancer is not close to the anal canal, then only a blood test will pick up anaemia.
Abdominal pain can also occur, or if you feel a lump in your tummy it is best to get this checked as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, bowel cancer may not cause any symptoms at all. That is why it is important that certain individuals are screened for it.
There are various screening tests available for detecting bowel cancer or its pre cursor, namely, benign little overgrowths of the bowel wall called polyps.
Polyps vary in size, typically between 2mm to 2cm. It is often the case that you would not know you have them, as they are usually too small to cause any symptoms such as pain or loose stools.
During a colonoscopy these benign polyps can be removed. This will lessen your risk of bowel cancer in the years following your procedure.
In fact someone with no family history of bowel cancer or polyps would not need another colonoscopy for 10 years, if their first examination is normal.
Current statistics show that 57% of people with bowel cancer survive more than 10 years following diagnosis. Early diagnosis is the key though, as if diagnosed in Stage 1, there is an almost 100% chance of recovery, compared to a diagnosis in Stage 4, where the average survival rate falls closer to 40%.
The colon cancer symptoms in men and women are largely the same. Men are more prone to develop colon cancer though, with 7% of men at risk, compared to 5% of women.
Common symptoms can include a change in bowel habit, passing blood when you poo or abdominal pain. Family history, or a history of colon polyps, affects your risk too.
Bowel cancer treatment varies, mainly depending on the stage in which the disease is detected.
If the cancer is detected in Stage 1, treatment can simply be to remove the cancerous bowel polyps, by snipping them away from the lining of the bowel. This can even be performed at the same time as doing the screening test.
If the cancer is detected in Stage 4, treatment though can often involve surgery to the bowel and a colostomy, which acts in place of your original bowel, to pass and collect your poo.
When it comes to thinking about treatment options though, it is vital to build a good relationship with a specialist doctor, who can give you all the options.
For many years patients have been coming to Dr Anton Bungay for expert advice regarding the prevention and treatment of bowel cancer, including: