Bowel cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in the UK, affecting around 40,000 people each year. On average, one in twenty people will develop the disease during their life.
The bowel is part of the digestive system which processes all the food we eat and turns it into energy. The digestive process begins in the stomach where the food then passes to the small bowel; nutrients are absorbed into the body at this point before the digested food moves into the large bowel
Any cancer that begins in the large bowel is referred to as bowel cancer, it can also start in the small bowel, but this is a lot rarer. Bowel cancer can also be called:
- – Colorectal cancer
- – Colon cancer
Colorectal and colon cancer are any cancers that affect the large bowel (colon) and rectum (back passage). The colon is the first part of the large bowel; the total length of the large bowel is approximately 5 feet long with 4 sections, cancer can develop in any of these four sections:
- – Sigmoid Colon
- – Descending Colon
- – Transverse Colon
- – Ascending Colon
Two other types of bowel cancer that can occur are:
- – Rectal Cancer: This is the last part of the large bowel where poo is stored.
- – Anal Cancer: The anus is the opening at the end of the large bowel. There are different types of anal cancer and is a very rare form of bowel cancer.
Bowel cancer often begins with a small growth called a polyp or adenoma, when left untreated they can become cancerous and grow into the under the lining of the bowel and through the bowel wall.
Causes of Bowel Cancer:
Age: This is the biggest single risk factor with over 80% of people diagnosed being over 60 years old.
Family history: If the immediate family have had bowel cancer this would put you at higher risk.
Diet: Evidence has shown that a diet high in red meat and processed meat can increase the risk of developing bowel cancer.
Smoking: People who smoked compared to those who don’t smoke are at higher risk.
Obesity: Being overweight or obese will increase the risk of bowel cancer, this is shown particularly in men.
Physical Activity: Not getting enough exercise puts you at higher risk of bowel cancer.
Digestive Disorders: Disorders such as Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis can increase the risk of developing bowel cancer, if you’ve had one of these conditions for 10 years or more, this will increase your risk further.
Genetics: Mutated inherited genes such as Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP) and Hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), increase the risk of bowel cancer.
Previous Medical History: If you’ve had benign polyps in the bowel, this is an indicator that you could develop cancer in the bowel. When left untreated polyps can turn cancerous. Diabetes also increases the risk of bowel cancer, although the reason for this is still unknown.
Previous Cancers: If you’ve had cancer before this will put you at higher risk of developing it again.
Radiation Exposure: 1 in 100 cases of bowel cancer are due to radiation exposure which can be a result of treatment for previous cancers.
Signs and symptoms
The most common signs and symptoms of bowel cancer are:
- – Blood in stool
- – Change in bowel habits
- – Abdominal pain
- – A lump in the back passage
- – Unexplained weight loss
- – Pain in the back passage
- – Anaemia
- – Feeling bloated
- – Constipation
- – Being unable to pass wind
- – Nausea or vomiting
If you have one or more of these symptoms, please visit your GP. Most of these symptoms can be linked to other conditions but a doctor can refer you for tests.