Bowel Cancer Awareness Month: Spotting the signs

Posted April 01, 2016

Bowel (colorectal) cancer is the UK’s second biggest cancer killer. Each year around 42,000 people are diagnosed with the disease however, if detected early enough more than 90% of bowel cancer cases can be successfully treated. Bowel cancer affects the large bowel (colon) and back passage (rectum). Most bowel cancers originate in benign polyps (adenomas) of the inner lining of the colon that change with time (usually years) to become cancerous. Some types of bowel cancer can run in families. Smoking, alcohol consumption, and diet have all been identified as risk factors. Untreated, bowel cancers can spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream such as the liver or the lungs.

Symptoms

It’s really important to be aware of what is normal for you, if you know your body then you can act quickly if something out of the ordinary happens. A change in your bowel habits that lasts for three weeks or more, blood in your faeces or bleeding from your back passage (noticed on wiping or in the toilet) are all warning signs. Other symptoms include feeling that you have not been able to completely empty your bowels, pain in the rectum, unexpected weight loss or increasing abdominal bloating and pain.

Diagnosis

If you are concerned about having bowel cancer, you should seek the advice of your GP or a colorectal specialist as early as possible. Signs that may draw your doctor’s attention to the possibility of bowel cancer include abnormal lumps on examining your tummy or back passage. Blood tests may reveal a lower than normal level of blood cells (anaemia) which occurs due slow, undetected bleeding from the tumour. If this diagnosis is suspected, you may then undergo either a camera test to look into the bowel (flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy) and take a sample of the suspicious area (biopsy), or a virtual colonoscopy using a CT scan. If bowel cancer is suspected you may also have a body CT scan to look for any signs of spread.

Treatment

This depends on the type, size and stage (how far it has spread) of bowel cancer. If you are found to have a polyp of the bowel for example, this can be removed at the time of the colonoscopy. Other treatments include surgery to remove the affected bowel, or chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy. Early detection makes a real difference to the success of treatment, so it advisable to seek medical advice sooner rather than later to ensure that, if present, bowel cancer is treated at the earliest possible stage.

Mr Omer Aziz is a Colorectal Surgeon specialising in bowel cancer at The Christie Clinic. To make an appointment or for more information please call 0161 918 7296.