Bowel cancer typically originates from the large intestine or colon. Depending on its location, bowel cancer can be named colorectal cancer, colon cancer, or rectal cancer. Mainly, bowel cancer affects older people; however, it can happen at any stage of life.
At first, bowel cancer affects the inner lining of the bowel. This cancer is developed from tiny growths called polyps. Polyps are initially harmless, but over time they can take the shape of cancer. However, in their earlier stages, they can be removed with a technique called colonoscopy. Bowel cancer can be cured with proper screening. It's worth mentioning that 90 per cent of patients can recover from bowel cancer if they get timely treatment.
If bowel cancer is not treated on time, it can reach the deeper layers of the bowel's wall and the lymph nodes. In severe cases, bowel cancer can affect the liver and lungs as well.
How common is Bowel Cancer?
Bowel cancer is the fourth most common form of cancer worldwide and one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in the UK. On average, 40,000 new cases of bowel cancer are diagnosed every year in the UK. According to official estimations, one in every fifteen UK males and one in eighteen UK females are likely to develop bowel cancer in their lifetimes.
Bowel cancer affects both men and women. People over 50 are more vulnerable to this cancer. However, it can occur in teenagers as well. When it comes to treating bowel cancer, regular screening holds the utmost importance. Around 75 per cent of bowel cancer cases emerge in people who have no known risk factor. A person with a family history of bowel cancer or colon polyps is more likely to develop bowel cancer during his/her lifetime. Statistics show that 54% of UK bowel cancer patients can recover if they get proper treatment.
Major causes of Bowel Cancer in the UK
In total, 28% of bowel cancer cases in the UK are linked with too little fibre consumption. The use of processed meat causes 13% of bowel cancer cases. Overweight and obesity account for 11% of bowel cancer cases and physical inactivity for 5% of cases. Alcohol and smoking can also cause bowel cancer; 13% of patients are linked with the usage of alcohol and tobacco products.
Symptoms of Bowel Cancer
During the early stages of bowel cancer, the symptoms may be minor or even non-existent. However, some warning signs can be noticed. Apparent symptoms arise when the disease enters stage 2.
Usually, bowel cancer develops from polyps in the colon or rectum. Timely screening and removal of polyps help prevent bowel cancer. Sudden weight loss and narrow, ribbon-like stools are some of the earlier warning signs of bowel cancer. The common symptoms of bowel cancer are listed below:
- Blood contents in faeces
- Symptoms of piles
- Change in Bowel habits (Diarrhea or Constipation)
- Abdominal pain, swelling, and discomfort
- Bloating and feeling of fullness
- Frequent bowel movements
- Weight loss, weakness, and fatigue
- Change in appearance of faeces
- Pain in the anal and rectal region
- Low red blood cells production
- Dizziness and tiredness
- Bowel blockage
It is noteworthy other conditions like Haemorrhoids, diverticulitis, inflammatory bowel disease, or anal fissure can cause the same symptoms therefore, they must not be confused with bowel cancer. Changes in bowel function are frequent, and most of the time, they do not indicate any serious problem. However, bowel conditions that include bleeding cannot be considered normal and must be treated without delay.
Risk factors of Bowel cancer
Although the exact cause of bowel cancer is still unknown, some risk factors contribute to the development of bowel cancer. These factors include:
Old age – Risk of bowel factor increases with age
Polyps – More polyps means more chance of bowel cancer.
Bowel diseases – Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis can increase the risk of bowel cancer.
Lifestyle – Being overweight and excessive consumption of red meat can lead to bowel cancer.
Family history & Genetic disorders – Some bowel cancers are associated with family history and inherited genes.
Other diseases – Ovarian cancer can increase the chances of bowel cancer. Bowel cancer can reoccur in the same person.
Treatments of Bowel Cancer
The factors determining bowel cancer treatment are its
- Patient's overall health
Depending on its location and severity level, bowel cancer can be treated with a combination of treatments. The main types of bowel cancer treatments are described below:
There are three main treatments of bowel cancer, with surgery being the most common treatment. Malignant tumours and affected lymph nodes are mainly removed by using this method, thereby reducing cancer chances. The rectum is completely removed in some cases. For drainage purposes and to collects stools, a colostomy bag is attached. However, this technique is temporary but can become permanent to join the ends of the bowel. Surgery may be helpful if the cancer is detected and diagnosed at an early stage.
Chemotherapy is a technique used to treat cancerous cells with the help of chemicals or medicines. It is also one of the most common treatments of bowel cancers. Chemotherapy can be used before or after surgery. To shrink the tumour, it can be used in combination with radiation therapy before surgery. Moreover, it reduces the risk of cancer recurring if applied after the surgery.
Targeted therapy is a form of chemotherapy that is used to dismantle proteins that cause cancer. This technique has fewer side effects. A complete full cycle of chemotherapy can last up to 26 weeks. The duration of this treatment depends on the response of your body.
This technique makes use of high-energy radiation beams to kill cancerous cells. Additionally, these radiations stop further division of cancer cells. Radiation therapy is the best treatment for rectal cancers. Just like chemotherapy, radiation therapy can also be used before surgery.
Let's beat bowel cancer together and spread awareness; early detection is always the best prevention.