Every 30 minutes someone dies from bowel cancer in the UK - over 16,000 each year
If diagnosed early, over 90% of bowel cancer cases can be treated successfully
Around one in 17 people will get bowel cancer
It affects men and women almost equally
The number of cases of bowel cancer in younger people is increasing rapidly, particularly in the under-30s which has increased by 120% in the last decade.
If you are worried about any symptoms that you think might be caused by bowel cancer, make an appointment with your doctor immediately.
In England, bowel cancer is the third most common type of cancer. In 2009, there were 41,142 new cases of bowel cancer registered in the UK:
18,431 cases were diagnosed in women, making it the second most common cancer in women after breast cancer
22,711 cases were diagnosed in men, making it the third most common cancer after prostate and lung cancer
Approximately 72% of bowel cancer cases develop in people who are 65 or over. Two-thirds of bowel cancers develop in the colon, with the remaining third developing in the rectum.
What is bowel cancer?
Bowel cancer is also referred to as colorectal or colon cancer. Nearly all bowel cancers develop in the large bowel - two-thirds of these are in the colon and one-third in the rectum. Most bowel cancers develop from polyps which are usually non-cancerous and, once detected, can be removed easily if caught early enough.
Symptoms of bowel cancer
The symptoms of bowel cancer can be:
Bleeding from your bottom and/or blood in your stools
A change in bowel habit lasting for 3 weeks or more especially to looser or runny stools
Unexplained weight loss
Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason
A severe pain or lump in your tummy
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms or are worried that you might have bowel cancer, visit your GP immediately.
Who's at risk?
Things that increase your risk of getting bowel cancer include:
Age – around 72% of people diagnosed with bowel cancer are over 65. However, there has been an increase in bowel cancer in younger people so you need to be aware of the symptoms whatever age you are. Remember, the sooner you are treated the better
Diet – a diet high in fibre and low in saturated fat could reduce your bowel cancer risk, a diet high in red or processed meats can increase your risk
Healthy weight – leaner people are less likely to develop bowel cancer than obese people
Exercise – being inactive increases the risk of getting bowel cancer
Alcohol and smoking – high alcohol intake and smoking may increase your chances of getting bowel cancer
Family history and inherited conditions – having a close relative with bowel cancer puts you at much greater risk of developing the disease
Related conditions – having certain bowel conditions can put you more at risk of getting bowel cancer
Treatment and outlook
Bowel cancer can be treated using a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and, in some cases, biological therapy. As with most types of cancer, the chance of a complete cure depends on how far the cancer has advanced by the time it is diagnosed.
If bowel cancer is diagnosed in its earliest stages, the chance of surviving a further five years is 90%, and a complete cure is usually possible. However, bowel cancer diagnosed in its most advanced stage only has a five-year survival rate of 6% and a complete cure is unlikely.
Can I prevent it?
Whilst the exact causes of Bowel cancer are unknown there is plenty you can to reduce your chances of developing bowel cancer. Get started with these simple steps:
1. Exercise. The more active you are, the more you reduce your chances of developing bowel cancer.
2. Eat foods that are rich in fibre such as fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds and wholegrain cereals.
3. Replace white bread, pasta and rice for wholegrain i.e. brown or grain alternatives.
4. Cut down on red meat, and avoid processed meats, such as processed ham and meats. Cut down on fatty meats e.g. bacon. Fish and poultry are good alternatives to red meat, as are soya and other vegetarian substitutes.
5. Limit your alcohol intake. Bowel cancer has been linked to a heavy intake of alcohol (+ 4 units of alcohol a day for men).
6. Get to know all the allium family - onions, garlic, shallots, chives and leeks are all good for your gut.
7. Don’t hold it. If you need to go to the toilet, do so as soon as you can.
8. Always drink your daily recommended water, most healthy adults need 1.5-3litres (6-8 medium glasses).
9. Lastly and most importantly, stop smoking. Quitting can be hard but enlist the help of friends and family. The NHS also offers free advice on quitting, contact your local doctor’s surgery for further information. Remember it’s never too late to give up smoking and reap the benefits. Patients who are still smoking at the time of their diagnosis have shorter survival times than those who have already quit.
If you would like to talk to us or if you require any further information, please email Ducks & Drakes
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