Did you know that bowel or colon cancer is one of the fastest-growing cancers in the UK? It’s also the third most common cancer in both men and women. Around 40 000 new cases of colon cancer will be diagnosed every year; about one in 20 people will be diagnosed with colon cancer in the UK during their lifetime. Nine out of ten people diagnosed with this cancer are over 60 years old.
We’ve spoken with our Doctors and Medical Experts to bring you information on the symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of colon cancer.
The most common symptoms are blood in faeces/stools, changes in bowel habits (such as more frequent movements or looser stools) and abdominal pain. However many of these symptoms are also common signs of other, less serious problems, and most people with them will not be diagnosed with colon cancer.
If any of these symptoms persist despite simple treatments, your doctor should investigate further.
Most people diagnosed with colon cancers will have one or more of the following symptoms:
- Persistent changes in bowel habits
- Persistent changes in bowel habits with abdominal pain
- Blood in the stools without extra haemorrhoid symptoms
- Abdominal pain caused by eating, resulting in eating less and weight loss
The UK has a programme of colon cancer screening which can be done at home. Everyone from the age of 60-74 can carry out an FOB (faecal occult blood) test at home which checks for blood in stools. This helps detect cancer early, which increases the chances of successful treatment.
If your doctor thinks that further checks should be made, they will usually check your tummy and bottom for lumps, eliminate other potential causes such as anaemia, and then possibly send you for some hospital tests such as a flexible sigmoidoscopy, biopsy or colonoscopy. If a diagnosis of colon cancer is confirmed, further tests such as CT and MRI scans will be done to determine the stage and grade of cancer.
The main treatments are:
- Surgery – removes the cancerous sections, which in most cases cures the cancer
- Chemotherapy – medication taken to kill cancer cells
- Radiotherapy – radiation is used to eradicate cancer cells
The exact cause of colon cancer is not known, but there a number of things that can increase the risk of colon cancer:
- Age – most diagnoses are for people over the age of 60
- Weight – colon cancer is more common in people who are overweight
- Diet – a diet high in processed meats and low in fibre can increase the risk of developing colon cancer
- Inactivity – colon cancer is more common in people who do not take regular exercise
- Genetics – a close relative being diagnosed with colon cancer puts you at a greater risk of developing the cancer over your lifetime.
- Drinking and smoking – high alcohol intake and smoking are risk factors.
If you have more questions about the symptoms of colon cancer, or your own situation, our verified Medical Experts are here to help you.