What is Bowel Cancer?
22 May 2022
What is Cancer?
Cancer is a disease that occurs when some of the body’s cells grow uncontrollably and spread to other parts of the body.1 The process where cells in your body typically divide and grow is controlled in a functioning body.2 The overproduction of abnormal and damaged cells causes tumours which can be benign or cancerous.1
Cancer can occur anywhere in the body as the body is made up of trillions of cells. Anywhere there are cells, cancer can occur. Normal cells will only grow when they receive signals telling them to do so.2
Cancerous cells don’t use those signals to grow and do not respond to signals that usually instruct the cell to stop diving or die.2
Normal cells don’t move around the body - they stay put and won’t grow into the space of other cells. Cancerous cells can spread to other areas of the body and don’t stop growing when they encounter other cells.2
Cancerous cells tell blood vessels to grow towards the tumours and provide an oxygen and nutrients supply to them, helping them to grow stronger. Cancerous cells can also hide from the immune system, so it doesn’t get the chance to attack the tumour. The immune system can also be tricked into protecting the tumour.2
Cancerous cells can make use of different nutrients from normal cells. This means it doesn’t have to share its energy supply, allowing it to grow more quickly than normal cells that rely on a smaller range of nutrients.2
What is Bowel Cancer?
Bowel cancer can also be referred to as colorectal cancer. It can appear in the colon and rectum, which collectively comprise the large bowel.1
Most bowel cancers develop from pre-cancerous growths, which are known as polyps. Doctors will usually remove polyps to prevent the risk of them becoming cancerous, but it’s important to note that not all polyps develop into cancer.1
The cancerous cells can stay in the bowel or travel to other parts of the body, causing cancer in those locations too. Most commonly, they will travel to the lungs and liver.1 This is what's known as cancer “spreading”.
How Common is Bowel Cancer?
Unfortunately, bowel cancer is very common. In fact, bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK and the second biggest killer of all types of cancer. Currently, around 268,000 people live in the UK with bowel cancer, with an additional 43,000 receiving the diagnosis yearly.5
94% of those diagnosed with bowel cancer are over the age of 50, with 59% of those being over the age of 70. This makes it far less likely for young people to develop cancer, although still more than 2,600 of the yearly cases are made up of those under the 50s.5
It is slightly more common in men; 1 in 15 men will be diagnosed with bowel cancer in their lifetime compared to 1 in 18 women.5
What are the Symptoms of Bowel Cancer?
The symptoms of bowel cancer can vary from person to person, and the symptoms may also be caused by something completely unrelated. Having one or more of these symptoms does not mean you have bowel cancer, but it’s recommended to get checked by a doctor just in case. Symptoms can include:3
- Blood in your poo
- Bleeding from the anus
- An unexplained change in bowel movements that is persistent
- Unexplained weight loss
- Unexplained extreme fatigue
- Pain or lump in the abdomen
What are the Treatment Options for Bowel Cancer?
An endoscopy would usually be carried out to diagnose bowel cancer. This involves a small camera inserted into the bowel in a thin tube. CT scans may also be used.4
To treat bowel cancer, usually, surgery is required to remove the tumour from the bowel. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy may also remove the cancerous cells from your system. Even once you are cancer-free, regular check-ups are needed to ensure cancer has not returned.4
If you suspect you have bowel cancer or cancer of any kind, make an urgent appointment with your healthcare provider. The earlier cancer is caught, the easier it is to treat, making early diagnosis extremely important.