Bowel cancer is England’s fourth most common cancer, with around 37,000 new cases in England each year.
Record numbers of people are getting checked for bowel cancer across the North West as more people become eligible for home screening tests.
Bowel cancer is a general term for cancer that begins in the large bowel. Depending on where the cancer starts, bowel cancer is sometimes called colon or rectal cancer.
- persistent blood in your poo, which happens for no obvious reason
- a persistent change in your bowel habit such as having to go more, or poo becoming runnier
- persistent lower abdominal pain, bloating or discomfort that’s caused by eating and can be associated with loss of appetite or unintentional weight loss
Although these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have bowel cancer, and may be due to other health issues, it is important to remain vigilant and book an appointment with your GP if you notice any changes to your bowel habits.
Symptoms should be taken more seriously if they persist despite simple treatments, and as you get older, as most people diagnosed with bowel cancer are over the age of 60
The exact cause of bowel cancer is not known, but there are a number of things that can increase your risk, including:
- age – almost 9 in 10 people with bowel cancer are aged 60 or over
- diet – a diet high in red or processed meats and low in fibre can increase your risk
- weight – bowel cancer is more common in overweight or obese people
- exercise – being inactive increases your risk of getting bowel cancer
- alcohol – drinking alcohol might increase your risk of getting bowel cancer
- smoking – smoking may increase your chances of getting bowel cancer
- family history – having a close relative (mother or father, brother or sister) who developed bowel cancer under the age of 50 puts you at a greater lifetime risk of developing the condition; screening is offered to people in this situation, and you should discuss this with a GP
Bowel cancer screening
To detect cases of bowel cancer sooner, everyone aged 60 to 74 who is registered with a GP and lives in England is automatically sent a bowel cancer screening home test kit every 2 years.
If you're 75 or over, you can ask for a kit every 2 years by phoning the free bowel cancer screening helpline on 0800 707 60 60.
The programme also includes 56 year olds.
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
- chemotherapy – where medicine is used to kill cancer cells
- radiotherapy – where radiation is used to kill cancer cells
- targeted therapies – a newer group of medicines that increases the effectiveness of chemotherapy and prevents the cancer spreading
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.
Keyhole or robotic surgery is being used more often, which allows surgery to be performed with less pain and a quicker recovery.
If you have any concerns about the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer, please visit your GP.