Bowel Cancer Signs and Symptoms
With April being Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, we wanted to take the opportunity to raise awareness of the key symptoms of bowel cancer and encourage more people to discuss them with their doctor earlier.
Mr Michael Machesney BSc MD FRCS, Consultant General and Colorectal Surgeon answers your frequently asked questions on bowel cancer.
What is bowel cancer?
Bowel cancer is a disease where there is growth of abnormal cells from within the lining of the colon or rectum. It can spread from the bowel to other lymph nodes and other organs such as the liver and lungs. Statistics from Cancer Research UK reveal bowel cancer as disease affecting both men and women that is the UK’s second biggest cancer killer. About 41,000 people are diagnosed with the disease each year in the UK with about 16,000 people dying from the disease.
95% of people diagnosed with the disease are over 50 years of age, but it can affect anyone at any age. If diagnosed early, more than 90% of patients may be cured.
What are the symptoms of bowel cancer and when should I seek medical advice?
Symptoms may include:
- blood in the stools (poo)
- a persistent change in bowel habit
- abdominal pain
- anaemia (looking pale, feeling tired)
- a lump in the abdomen (belly)
- weight loss.
You should seek medical advice when you have any of the symptoms above.
What happens during a consultation with a colorectal consultant?
The consultant surgeon will take a history by asking you detailed questions. They will examine you including an examination of your rectum (back passage) with a gloved finger and a short plastic telescope (rigid sigmoidoscope).
What are the risk factors for bowel cancer?
A person’s risk of developing bowel cancer depends on many factors, including age, genetics, and exposure to risk factors (including some potentially avoidable lifestyle factors).
Cancer Research UK estimates that 54% of bowel cancers in the UK are linked to lifestyle factors including:
- red and processed meat consumption (21%)
- overweight and obesity (13%)
- alcohol (12%)
- smoking (8%) and
- ionising radiation (2%).
Other risk factors include:
- family history of bowel cancer
- past history of polyps
- history of inflammatory bowel disease
- type 2 diabetes
Is there anything I do to prevent or lessen my chances of getting bowel cancer?
Yes. Make sure you exercise regularly, avoid getting overweight and increase your intake of dietary fibre, whole grains, vegetables and fruit.
Make sure you participate in bowel cancer screening. If you are aged 60 – 74 the NHS will send you a home test kit, used to collect a stool sample, every 2 years. If you’re 75 or over, you can ask for this test by calling the freephone helpline on 0800 707 60 60.
An additional one-off test called bowel scope screening is gradually being introduced in England. This is offered to men and women at the age of 55.
Taking part in bowel cancer screening reduces your chances of dying from bowel cancer, and removing polyps in bowel scope screening can prevent cancer.
What treatments are available for bowel cancer?
Very early cancers (polypcancers) may be treated by colonoscopy and polypectomy (removing the polyp using a flexible endoscope).
The mainstay of treatment is surgery. Laparoscopic (key hole) surgery is frequently the best way to remove the cancer. Some patients (with rectal cancer) may need radiotherapy and chemotherapy to make the tumour more safely operable before surgery. Other patients may need chemotherapy following surgery to reduce the risks of the tumour spreading to other organs.
About Mr Machnesney
Mr Michael Machesney BSc MD FRCS, Consultant General and Colorectal Surgeon, works at Whipps Cross University Hospital / Barts NHS Trust and holds clinics at The Holly Private Hospital, Buckhurst Hill every Wednesday and Friday afternoon.
An initial private consultation with Mr Michael Machesney costs £200 – £250.
To book a private appointment with Mr Michael Machesney you can call The Holly Private Hospital appointments team 020 8936 1201.