Bowel Cancer : What Is It


The only dangerous and life-threatening disease that the uneducated and less knowledgeable men know about is typically a ‘cancer’ or sometimes a heart attack. Cancer is a disease in which abnormal cells divide uncontrollably and destroy body tissue. People hardly have a thought to ponder over the various types of cancers that people suffer from. The most common ones include:

Breast cancer– cancer that forms in the cells of the breasts.
Prostate cancer- cancer in a man’s prostate, a small walnut-sized gland that produces seminal fluid.
Basal cell cancer– A type of skin cancer that begins in the basal cells.
Melanoma- The most serious type of skin cancer.
Colon cancer– A cancer of the colon or rectum, located at the digestive tract’s lower end.
Lung cancer- cancer that begins in the lungs and most often occurs in people who smoke.
Leukaemia- A cancer of blood-forming tissues, hindering the body’s ability to fight infection.
Lymphoma- A cancer of the lymphatic system.

Today, we shall spend a few minutes to know about the bowel cancer. What is Bowel cancer? Bowel cancer, or colorectal cancer, can affect any part of the large bowel (colon) or rectum. It may also be referred to as colon cancer or rectal cancer, depending on where the cancer is located. The disease should not be confused with anal cancer. Anal cancer is different from and less common than bowel cancer. Let us first discuss the term bowel and colon etc in brief, that would help us understand the concept of bowel cancer a little better.

*Bowel is actually the part of the alimentary canal below the stomach; the intestine.
*Colon: The long, coiled, tubelike organ that removes water from digested food. The remaining material, solid waste called stool, moves through the colon to the rectum and leaves the body through the anus. Also known as large bowel and large intestine.

Coming back to the topic, Most bowel cancers start as benign, non-threatening growths – called polyps – on the wall or lining of the bowel.
Polyps are usually harmless; however, adenomatous polyps can become cancerous (malignant) and if left undetected, can develop into a cancerous tumour.
In advanced cases, the cancerous tumour can spread (metastasize) beyond the bowel to other organs.

Who is prone to this?

Bowel cancer affects men and women, young and old. It is one of the top five causes of premature death among Australians aged 45-74 and is the seventh leading cause of death among those aged 25-44.
The risk of developing bowel cancer rises sharply and progressively from age 50, but the number of Australians under age 50 diagnosed with bowel cancer has been increasing steadily. That’s why it’s important to know the symptoms of bowel cancer and have them investigated if they persist for more than two weeks.
Alike every other disease, bowel cancer can be treated successfully when detected early.

During the early stages of bowel cancer, patients may have no symptoms.
Minor changes in bowel movements, with or without rectal bleeding are also seen, but they are often ignored or attributed to haemorrhoids.

As a cancerous tumour grows, it can narrow and block the bowel. Cancers occurring on the left side of the colon generally cause constipation alternating with diarrhoea, abdominal pain and obstructive symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting.
Right-sided colon lesions produce vague, abdominal aching, unlike the colicky pain seen with obstructive left-sided lesions.

Anaemia (low red blood cell count) resulting from chronic blood loss, weakness, weight loss and/or an abdominal mass may also occur when bowel cancer affects the right side of the colon.

Patients with cancer of the rectum may present with a change in bowel movements; rectal fullness, urgency, or bleeding; and tenesmus (cramping rectal pain).

Any of the below symptoms could be indicative of bowel or rectal cancer and should be investigated by your GP if they persist for more than two weeks.

Blood in the stool or rectal bleeding
A recent, persistent change in bowel habit, especially if severe (including diarrhea, constipation or the feeling of incomplete emptying)

A change in the shape or appearance of bowel movements (e.g., more narrow than usual)
Abdominal pain or swelling

Pain or a lump in the anus or rectum

Unexplained anaemia

A feeling that the bowel has not emptied completely after a bowel movement

Factors that promote the disease:

There are two kinds of risk factors for bowel cancer – those that can be changed (modifiable) and those that cannot (non-modifiable).

Bowel cancer risk is increased by smoking, eating red meat (especially when charred), eating processed meats (smoked, cured, salted or preserved), drinking alcohol, and being overweight or obese.

These risks can all be addressed through diet and lifestyle changes and are referred to as modifiable.

Age, family history, hereditary conditions and personal health history can also influence bowel cancer risk. Because they cannot be changed they are referred to as non-modifiable.People with certain diseases and illnesses seem to be more prone to developing bowel cancer.

These include Type II diabetes, other forms of closely linked cancer such as ovarian or digestive system cancers, and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) including Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis.

A person’s risk category also depends on how many close relatives have bowel cancer and their age at diagnosis. Someone with several close relatives diagnosed with bowel cancer before age 55 has a much higher risk than someone with no close relatives with bowel cancer.

In some family members, bowel cancer develops due to an inherited gene mutation. Some of these cause specific conditions, such as Lynch syndrome, familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), or attenuated familial adenomatous polyposis.


Diet & lifestyle
A healthy diet and lifestyle choices, as well as screening and surveillance, can help to reduce your bowel cancer risk.

Bowel cancer screening

Bowel cancer screening is safe and easy and can be done at home.
It is medically recommended that people aged 50 and over who do not have a family or personal history of bowel cancer, or an inherited gene mutation, should screen using a Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) every 1 to 2 years.

Bowel cancer surveillance

People from families with bowel cancer need extra testing to find bowel cancer early.
This includes having a colonoscopy every five years.

If a person experiences symptoms suggestive of bowel cancer for two weeks or longer, they should be referred by their GP to a specialist for colonoscopy within 30 days in order to investigate the cause. Even if the person is not experiencing any symptoms suggestive of bowel cancer, if they receive a positive screen from an at-home bowel cancer screening test, known as a Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT), they should be referred by their GP to a specialist for colonoscopy within 30 days for further investigation.

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