Colorectal cancer, also known as bowel cancer, is the term used for cancer which starts in the large bowel. The area of the body in which the cancer begins typically determines the name, and as such, bowel cancer is sometimes referred to as rectal cancer or colon cancer. It is one of the most common forms of cancer in the UK.

Statistics show that most patients diagnosed with bowel cancer are in the age bracket of over 60.

What are the symptoms of bowel cancer?

The symptoms of bowel cancer can often be vague and can be easily dismissed, but tend to appear in three main forms. Primarily they tend to include:

  • A marked difference in bowel habits, including looser stools and the need to go to the toilet more frequently
  • Blood in stools and sometimes mixed up in the stools, which appears to have no obvious cause
  • On occasion, abdominal pain or discomfort and bloating, and possibly weight loss.

In some cases, bowel cancer symptoms do not make people feel unwell and are subtle in their nature. Bowel cancer symptoms are typically persistent over a period of weeks, so it is recommended that those who begin to experience the symptoms above wait to see if they get better. This is especially pertinent as some bowel cancer symptoms are very common, meaning they could be caused by other conditions such as haemorrhoids, food poisoning or IBS.

If symptoms persist even after simple treatments, it is advised that they should be taken more seriously and medical advice sought. This is especially the case in patients over the age of 55 years.

What are the causes of bowel cancer?

While the exact cause of bowel cancer is not yet understood, there are factors which are accepted to increase risk. A diet which includes a little fibre but a lot of red meat is known to increase risk; those who are overweight and refrain from exercise are more likely to have bowel cancer; smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol can increase the risk; as can having a family history of colorectal cancer. Over nine in ten cases are seen in people in the over 60 age bracket.

When are colorectal cancer tests undertaken?

Based on the severity your symptoms, a doctor may choose to take a variety of tests. These include a basic examination of the stomach and bottom to ensure no lumps are visible; the principle investigation is colonoscopy to directly examine the colon; a general hospital check up to test the cause of symptoms further; or checking for iron deficiency anaemia with a blood test, determining if there has been any bleeding of the bowel which has gone undetected.

Treatment for colorectal cancer

The type of treatment administered for bowel cancer typically depends on where it is located and how far it has spread. Main treatment for colorectal cancer remains surgery. This can be carried out laparoscopically (key hole) or by conventional open surgery. Mr Windsor is experienced in both and can discuss the merits of these procedures with you. Other treatments that may be required include chemotherapy, which kills cancer cells with medication; biological treatments, which can supplement chemotherapy by stopping the cancer spread and radiotherapy, which attacks the cancerous cells with radiation.

Making an appointment

For those who have experienced the symptoms detailed above, colorectal cancer consultant Mr Alistair Windsor can be contacted via the confidential contact form here.