April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month. An ideal reminder to be aware of the symptoms of this type of cancer and how we can help you manage your treatment.
Cancer of the bowel is a general term for cancer that begins in the large part of the bowel. Depending on where the cancer starts, it can sometimes be called colorectal cancer or colon or rectal cancer.
Bowel cancer is one of the most common cancers diagnosed in the UK. Most people are diagnosed over the age of 60, but it is not uncommon for people much younger than 60 to be diagnosed with this type of cancer.
In this article we'll be taking a brief look at:
- Symptoms to be aware of
- causes and risk factors
- getting diagnosed and treatment
- how we can help you live well and manage your symptoms and side effects.
What are the symptoms of bowel cancer?
Many of the symptoms of bowel cancer can be mistaken for other more common conditions such as haemorrhoids or IBS. Keep track of how long you’ve experienced these symptoms for, as a cause for concern would be if they are persistent and can’t be related to anything else.
- Blood in your stool
- A change in your bowel habit, this may be needing to use the loo more often or feeling like you can’t completely empty your bowel
- Pain, discomfort and bloating in your lower stomach area.
Other less common symptoms can be persistent tiredness, unexplained weight loss and anaemia or pain or a lump in your abdomen or bottom.
Causes of bowel cancer
As with all cancers, the risk of developing bowel cancer depends on a number of factors and varies from person to person. There are some lifestyle risk factors so making a few healthy changes can lower your chances of getting it:
- Eat less red meat and avoid processed meat
- Eat more wholegrains, pulses, vegetables and fruit
- Be a healthy body weight
- Be more physically active
- Drink less alcohol
- Stop smoking.
There are risk factors which are out of your control such as:
- Age – the risk increases as you get older
- Family history of bowel cancer
- Type 2 diabetes
- Personal history of polyps or inflammatory bowel disease.
Bowel cancer in young people
It is more common for people over 60 to be diagnosed with bowel cancer, but in the UK each year 2,500 young people are diagnosed. This number is too high to ignore. Bowel Cancer UK is leading the change for this frequently overlooked age group by improving early diagnosis, treatment and care for younger people with bowel cancer.
Bowel cancer diagnosis
No matter what your age, if you’re experiencing the common symptoms persistently, go and see your GP. Your GP will perform a few checks such as:
- Examine your tummy and bottom to make sure you have no lumps
- Arrange for a simple blood test to check for iron deficiency anaemia – this can show whether there's any bleeding from your bowel that you have not been aware of
- Arrange for you to have a simple test in hospital to make sure there's no serious cause of your symptoms.
Bowel cancer screening
In the UK all men and women between the ages of 60 and 74 are invited to carry out a FIT or FOB test. This is a home test kit. Anyone over 75 years of age needs to request this test themself (contact numbers can be found in the useful resources and further reading section).
Bowel cancer treatment
Bowel cancer can be treated using a combination of different treatments, depending on where the cancer is in your bowel and how far it has spread.
The main treatments are:
- Surgery – the cancerous section of bowel is removed; it's the most effective way of curing bowel cancer and in many cases is all you need
As with most types of cancer, the chance of a complete cure depends on how far it's spread by the time it's diagnosed. If the cancer is confined to the bowel, surgery is usually able to completely remove it.
Living with bowel cancer
We can help you cope with the side effects of treatment. But we’re also here for you once treatment is over too. We can help you regain your new sense of normality but also make positive lifestyle changes such as getting back into exercise, eating well and looking after your mental and emotional wellbeing.
Online treatment support and an introduction to Penny Brohn UK
Introduction morning - This session is suitable for anyone new to Penny Brohn UK, who has not used our services or who wants to know more.
Online Treatment Support Clinic - This session is to help people preparing for, undergoing, or recovering from cancer treatments like chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery or immunotherapy. This clinic can help you find ways to improve wellbeing and manage side effects.
Coping with cancer
We can support you through and beyond your cancer experience.
We can help you regain your new sense of normality but also make positive lifestyle changes such as getting back into exercise, eating well and looking after your mental and emotional wellbeing.
Our weekly online group sessions include a variety of exercise classes for different abilities, and sessions about nutrition.
Useful resources and further support
Bowel cancer symptoms diary – Bowel Cancer UK
Protect yourself against bowel cancer – World Cancer Research Fund
Healthy Eating Guidelines – Penny Brohn UK
Meal and activity planner – Penny Brohn UK
Bowel Cancer screening guides (England, Wales and Scotland) - Bowel Cancer UK
FIT or FOB Test, what are they and how do I get a kit? - Macmillan Cancer Support