Bowel cancer is very common, with a lifetime risk of approximately 1 in 15 in men and 1 in 18 in women. It is the 4th commonest cancer overall (after breast, lung and prostate) and the 2nd most common cause of cancer death in the UK. The overall 5 year survival is 59%, but the earlier it is picked up, the better the chances of survival. This is why screening and being ‘bowel aware’ are so important. There is good evidence to show that people who are diagnosed via screening have a better outcome.
Symptoms of bowel cancer may be very vague. The symptoms of concern which should be investigated include bleeding from the back passage, any change in your bowel habit and anaemia. Also of concern might be if you can feel a lump, either in your abdomen (tummy) or around your back passage. However, many cases of bowel cancer have no symptoms, which is why screening is so important.
If you have any concerns regarding your bowels, these should be discussed with a specialist who will also examine you. If any investigation is required, this is either by colonoscopy (a flexible telescope test of the bowel) or a CT scan. Both have pros and cons and can be discussed.
Surgery alone is usually the treatment for early cases of bowel cancer. For more advanced cases, chemotherapy may also be required. Radiotherapy is sometimes used in patients with cancer in the rectum (the part of the bowel just inside the anus).