Bowel cancer usually affects the large bowel (colon) or the back passage (rectum) and it happens when the cells that line the bowel change over a period of time and grow in an abnormal way. This leads to the development of a lump or an ulcer which can cause rectal bleeding or a change in the way in which the bowel functions. (see Signs and Symptoms)
Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in Guernsey, after breast and prostate cancers, with approximately 40 to 45 new cases each year. But the good news is that, if detected early enough, over 90% of those diagnosed with early stage bowel cancer are successfully treated.
Don’t be embarrassed! Some people find it difficult to talk about their bowels and some just hope that any problems will go away. But don’t let embarrassment stop you going to see your GP. Remember that the symptoms are unlikely to be due to bowel cancer but it is important to discuss them with your doctor. See ‘Other Common Conditions’ with symptoms similar to bowel cancer.
Quite simply, a trip to your doctor’s surgery could save your life.
The commonest symptoms are change of bowel habit, for example:
Other warning signs include:
Other common conditions with symptoms similar to bowel cancer
Piles or haemorrhoids – These are swollen areas in the wall of the rectum and around the anus. They may cause pain and itching as well as bleeding. Bright red bleeding in the bowl or on toilet paper is almost always piles. Your GP or pharmacist should be able to advise re self treatment/over the counter products/other options.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome – With IBS the bowel becomes over sensitised, and symptoms may include diarrhoea, pain and discomfort. The cause is generally not known, and sufferers may have to learn to cope with their symptoms. Advice may be given re diet etc.
Polyps – These are warty type growths that sometimes cause bleeding but are usually harmless. They are often hereditary, and can be removed painlessly without the need for an operation.
Fissures – These are small splits or tears in the lining of the gut sometimes caused by constipation. Treatment is usually with a special cream-your GP will advise.
Diverticulitis – This condition is more common as we get older, with some IBS type symptoms such as gripping stomach pain. Dietary changes may help.
Crohns disease – This is characterised by painful inflammation of the gut. The cause is unknown and it may be life long. The risk of bowel cancer may be higher as a result, so your GP will need to monitor you regularly
Ulcerative colitis – The bowel becomes red and inflamed, and there may be bleeding and mucus as well as pain. Again, monitoring by the GP is needed as the risk of bowel cancer is higher as a result.
For more info on these conditions go to http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Cancer-of-the-colon-rectum-or-bowel/Pages/Introduction.aspx or www.beatingbowelcancer.org