Information on Bowel Cancer and Cancer of the Colon and Rectum:
The cause of bowel cancer
It is thought that a high incidence of bowel cancer can be linked to our diet. A diet that is low in fibre and high in animal fat and protein is likely to increase the risk of developing bowel cancer quite considerably.
With diet being one of the largest preventable causes of cancer in the UK, we have included a number of hints and tips (and cancer-fighting dietary supplements) in our cancer prevention section.
After diet, hereditary factors can also be linked to an increased risk. A family history of bowel cancer is a major factor, but also rare conditions such as familial adenomatous polyposis, (where benign tumours called polyps are found in the lining of the colon), can increase your risk of developing bowel cancer.
Other conditions such as ulcerative colitis – a disease of the lining of the bowel, can also increase your risk, if persistent.
The symptoms of bowel cancer
The symptoms of cancer of the large bowel may include any of the following:
- blood in the faeces (bowel motion) – sometimes seen as black stools,
- persistent constipation or diarrhoea,
- weight loss,
- pain in the abdomen or back passage.
If the cancer is causing, or beginning to cause, a blockage in the bowel, you may experience:
- pain and a bloated feeling in the abdomen.
These symptoms are also signs of other medical conditions, but nevertheless, it is still important that your doctor evaluate your condition as soon as possible.
Methods of diagnosis
Initial examination often involves a rectal examination to detect any abnormalities. This may also be accompanied by a faecal occult blood test – where you are asked to take a sample of your stool to the GP surgery or hospital so that it can be tested for the presence of blood.
Where further examination is required, the following tests are common:
- Barium enema – This is where an X-ray of the bowel is taken with the aid of barium – a substance which shows up clearly on the x-ray.
- Colonoscopy – A process that allows your doctor to visually examine the whole length of the large bowel using a flexible tube called a colonoscope. If there are any suspect areas, your doctor can take biopsies during the procedure.
- Proctoscopy or Sigmoidoscopy – these tests are similar to the colonoscopy but use different tools to examine different areas. A proctoscope is a short tube which just goes into the rectum whilst a sigmoidoscope is a longer tube which can be passed further up into the large bowel. Again, a biopsy can be taken where necessary.