Bowel cancer is also called colorectal cancer and includes large bowel cancer (colon cancer) and cancer of the back passage (rectal cancer or cancer of the rectum). Find out about bowel cancer symptoms, risk factors, causes and preventing bowel cancer. There is information about tests to diagnose bowel cancer and treatments including surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, biological therapy, research and clinical trials. The living with bowel cancer section has information about diet after surgery, managing a colostomy, and how cancer may affect your sex life.
Symptoms of bowel cancer
The symptoms of bowel (colorectal) cancer can include
- Bleeding from the back passage (rectum) or blood in your poo
- A change in normal bowel habits
- A lump that your doctor can feel in your back passage or abdomen (more commonly on the right side)
- A feeling of needing to strain in your back passage (as if you need to pass a bowel motion), even after opening your bowels
- Losing weight
- Pain in your abdomen or back passage
- A lower than normal level of red blood cells (anaemia)
Because bowel tumours can bleed, cancer of the bowel often causes a shortage of red blood cells. This is called anaemia and may cause tiredness and sometimes breathlessness.
Sometimes cancer can block the bowel. This is called a bowel obstruction. The symptoms include
- Griping pains in the abdomen
- Feeling bloated
- Constipation and being unable to pass wind
- Being sick
Causes of bowel cancer
The fallowing causes are as fallows:
Your chances of developing bowel cancer increase as you get older. Almost 9 out of 10 cases of bowel cancer in the UK are diagnosed in people over the age of 60.
Having a family history of bowel cancer can increase your risk of developing the condition yourself, particularly if a close relative (mother, father, brother or sister) was diagnosed with bowel cancer below the age of 50.
If you are particularly concerned that your family’s medical history may mean you are at an increased risk of developing bowel cancer, it may help to speak to your GP.
If necessary, your GP can refer you to a genetics specialist, who can offer more advice about your level of risk and recommend any necessary tests to periodically check for the condition.
A large body of evidence suggests a diet high in red and processed meat can increase your risk of developing bowel cancer.
For this reason, the Department of Health advises people who eat more than 90g (cooked weight) a day of red and processed meat cut down to 70g a day.
Read more about red meat and bowel cancer risk.
There is also evidence that suggests a diet high in fibre could help reduce your bowel cancer risk.
Read more about eating good food and a healthy diet.
People who smoke cigarettes are more likely to develop bowel cancer, other types of cancer, and other serious conditions, such as heart disease.
Drinking alcohol has been shown to be associated with an increased risk of bowel cancer, particularly if you regularly drink large amounts.
Read about drinking and alcohol for more information and tips on cutting down.
Being overweight or obese is linked to an increased risk of bowel cancer, particularly in men.
If you are overweight or obese, losing weight may help lower your chances of developing the condition.
People who are physically inactive have a higher risk of developing bowel cancer.
You can help reduce your risk of bowel and other cancers by being physically active every day.
Some conditions affecting the bowel may put you at a higher risk of developing bowel cancer. For example, bowel cancer is more common in people who have had severe Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis for many years.
If you have one of these conditions, you will usually have regular check-ups to look for signs of bowel cancer from about 10 years after your symptoms first develop.
Check-ups will involve examining your bowel with a colonoscope – a long, narrow flexible tube that contains a small camera – that is inserted into your rectum.
The frequency of the colonoscopy examinations will increase the longer you live with the condition, and will also depend on factors such as how severe your ulcerative colitis is and if you have a family history of bowel cancer.
There are two rare inherited conditions that can lead to bowel cancer. They are:
- familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) – a condition that triggers the growth of non-cancerous polyps inside the bowel
- hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), also known as Lynch syndrome – an inherited gene fault (mutation) that increases your bowel cancer risk