It’s now bowel cancer awareness month so I thought it would be appropriate to talk about it. Someone in the UK is diagnosed with bowel cancer every 15 minutes, which is roughly around 43,000 per year, but what is it?
Bowel cancer can also be called colorectal cancer, as it affects the large bowel made up of the rectum and colon. When cancer develops in a person’s body, the cells do not divide and grow normally. Cancer typically stems from pre-cancerous growths called polyps; it is worth noting that not all polyps are cancerous though, and can be removed before it turns into cancer. Cancerous cells may also spread to other areas of the body such as the liver or lungs.
How common is bowel cancer?
It is estimated that 268,000 people living across the Uk currently have been diagnosed with bowel cancer. It is more common in older people, as 94% of those diagnosed are over 50, and 59% are over 70. Despite this, it is important to remember that younger people can also have bowel cancer as statistics show that over 2,600 people each year that are diagnosed are under 50. Men are slightly more likely to have bowel cancer, as 1 in 15 men are diagnosed, while 1 in 18 women get bowel cancer.
What are some of the signs that you may have bowel cancer?
Blood in your poo or bleeding from your back passage
A lump in your back passage or abdomen, often on your right side
Tiredness and breathlessness caused by lower levels of red blood cells (anaemia)
Changes in your normal bowel habits, such as constipation, more frequent pooing, looser poos
A feeling of needing to strain in your back passage (as if you need to poo), even after opening your bowels
In addition to this, bowel cancer can also cause a blockage called bowel obstruction. Symptoms of this include:
Being unable to pass wind
Cramping pains in your abdomen
What causes bowel cancer?
How likely you are to develop bowel cancer is dependent on many things, for example, age, family history, and various lifestyle choices, to name a few. Having one or more of these things does not automatically mean you will get bowel cancer but it is important to keep them in mind; here are the main risk factors or causes of bowel cancer:
Diet - A diet low in fibre and high in red or processed meats increases your risk
Family history - Having a family member diagnosed under 50 with bowel cancer puts you at a greater risk
Obesity and being overweight - It more common in individuals that are overweight
Not enough exercise - inactivity increases your risk
Age - Around 9 in 10 people are aged over 60
Smoking tobacco - smoking tobacco increases your risk
Alcohol - drinking alcohol excessively increases your risk
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis - having these conditions in your colon for over 10 years increases your risk
How likely am I to survive bowel cancer?
16,500 people a year die from bowel cancer and it is second to lung cancer in how many people it kills. That being said, almost everyone that gets an early diagnosis survives bowel cancer. However, if it spreads or is diagnosed too late, the survival rates decrease significantly. Early diagnosis saves lives, so if you or anyone you know is exhibiting these symptoms and are concerned, please get them checked out.
The number of people dying from bowel cancer has been dropping since the 1970s, likely due to improved treatment and research. If you would like to contribute to seeing those numbers continue to fall, here are some charities that you can donate to: