Bowel cancer is a type of cancer that affects any portion of a person’s large bowel (rectum or colon) and is also called colorectal cancer. This cancer will grow from the mucosa in the bowel’s inner lining and can develop from polyps, which are growths along the bowel wall. Although most of the time these polyps are benign they can become malignant (cancerous) eventually. Malignant polyps will be either large or small and mushroom-shaped or flat.
When untreated, bowel cancer may grow into the bowel wall’s deeper layers, spreading to its lymph nodes. If it continues to advance, it may spread to additional organs like the lungs or liver. Most of the time bowel cancer develops slowly and will stay within the bowel for months, even years before it spreads.
Bowel Cancer Symptoms
Common Initial Bowel Cancer Symptoms
Most of the time there are no initial bowel cancer symptoms, which vary as the cancer develops. The following are some first symptoms:
- Abdominal pain
- Feeling that the rectum is not fully empty after passing feces
- Changes in usual bowel habits (either passing feces less or more often, constipation, or diarrhea)
- Mucus in the feces
- Bleeding from the lump. In this case you may find blood mixed with your feces, occasionally turning them very dark. Most of the time, the bleeding is mild and not noticed.
Increasingly Severe Bowel Cancer Symptoms
As the tumor causing the bowel cancer grows within the rectum or colon, you may notice one of the following more severe bowel cancer symptoms:
- Any of the early symptoms, but more serious
- Generally feeling unwell
- Losing weight
- When the cancer becomes large, it may obstruct the colon. This can lead to serious abdominal pain as well as additional symptoms like emesis.
- In some cases, the cancer will create a perforation or hole in the wall of the rectum or colon. When this occurs, the feces may leak into a person’s abdomen leading to serious pain.
- If the cancer is not caught early and continues to spread, it can lead to additional symptoms in other areas of the body.
When to See a Doctor
If you have any of the bowel cancer symptoms mentioned above, then visit a doctor. The symptoms may have other causes but should always be checked into in case they indicate colon cancer.
Watch a consultant surgeon explain which people have the highest risk of developing bowel cancer and how it is treated:
Risk Factors for Bowel Cancer
Obesity, exercise, alcohol, tobacco, NSAIDS, statins, oral contraceptives, age, personal history and family history, etc. are all risk factors that may increase one's chance of developing colorectal cancer. Having one or more risk factors, does not mean that you will get bowel cancer. Screening for bowel cancer is a helpful way of dealing with this disease.
Screening for People at Risk of Bowel Cancer
Screening for bowel cancer can catch it early and is especially important for those over 60. Screening kits include fecal occult blood tests that detect tiny quantities of blood in the feces. Although the test will not diagnose the bowel cancer, it can let you know if you should be examined.
Medical Treatments for Bowel Cancer
If you have bowel cancer symptoms and get a positive diagnosis, then you will be glad to know that there are multiple treatment options. These treatments are usually divided into surgical procedures and non-surgical treatments.
The most common medical treatment for bowel cancer is surgery. Open surgery involves a large cut in the abdomen while keyhole surgery has a smaller incision. When the cancer is in the bowel, the surgeon removes the affected part (sometimes with the lymph nodes as well), joining the two newly open ends. Sometimes your doctor will need to create a stoma instead.
When cancer is in the rectum, the surgeon removes the cancer as well as surrounding tissues, sometimes including lymph nodes.
- Monoclonal Antibodies: These medications recognize proteins within the cancer cells and then prevent them from growing. They can be used with chemotherapy and they include bevacizumab, cetuximab, and panitumumab.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is a method of treating cancer via anti-cancer medications which stop the cancer cells from multiplying and kill them. This is becoming more common for bowel cancer.
- Radiotherapy: Radiotherapy uses radiation in high-energy beams and focuses them on the cancerous tissue. This either stops the cells from multiplying or kills them. It is more common for bowel cancer located in the rectum.
Living With Bowel Cancer
Most people find it challenging after receiving a diagnosis of bowel cancer, but you can usually find some ways to help you deal with this problem. Although not every method will work for everyone, multiple of them may help you.
- Take time for yourself and relax
- Avoid trying to do too many things at a time
- Know more about you situation
- Talk to others who are in the same situation
- Create a strong support system of your friends and family
To learn more about bowel cancer or resources in your area, you can talk to your local health care provider.
Prevention for Bowel Cancer
Sometimes taking the following steps will help you lower your risk of developing bowel cancer:
- Do Regular Exercise: Try to exercise twice to five times a week.
- Quit Smoking: If you currently smoke, quit right away as this will decrease your risk.
- Keep Fit: Maintaining a healthy weight can also reduce your risk.
- Have Several Fruits and Vegetables Each Day: Ideally you should have at least five portions of these foods a day.
- Eat High-fiber Foods: Eating foods rich in fiber such as wholegrain pasta, cereals, and bread can help as well.
- Control Alcohol: If you must drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Women shouldn’t have more than two or three units each day and men shouldn’t exceed three to four units.