Figures differ slightly from country to country but in the main they stay consistent:
Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in the US and the UK
In most countries it is the third or fourth most common cancer, after breast, prostate and lung cancers.
- There will be an estimated 140,250 new cases of colorectal cancer in the US and 42,000 in the UK – that’s a diagnosis in each country approximately every 15 minutes!
- More than nine out of ten new cases (94%) are diagnosed in people over the age of 50, and nearly six out of ten cases (58%) are diagnosed in people aged 70 or over. But bowel cancer can affect any age. However, in the UK more than 2,500 people under 50 are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year – so whatever age you are you need to be aware.
- 1 in 14 men and 1 in 19 women will be diagnosed with bowel cancer during their lifetime.
- In the US 25% of people diagnosed with colorectal cancer have a family history and in the Australia it’s 30%
- 60% of colorectal cancer deaths could be prevented with early screening
- 98% of bowel cancer cases can be treated successfully if found early – but fewer than 50% of cases are detected at the early stages
Colon cancer is cancer of the large intestine (colon), which is the final part of your digestive tract. Most cases of colon cancer begin as small, noncancerous (benign) clumps of cells called adenomatous polyps. Over time some of these polyps can become colon cancers. Polyps may be small and produce few, if any, symptoms.
In the early stages, symptoms are difficult to spot, which is why screening is so important.
When symptoms do appear, they'll likely vary, depending on the cancers size and location in your large intestine, but may include:
- A change in your bowel habits, including diarrhoea or constipation or a change in the consistency of your stool, that lasts longer than four weeks
- Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
- Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain
- A feeling that your bowel doesn't empty completely
- Weakness or fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
Screening for Bowel Cancer
Finding colon cancer at its earliest stage provides the greatest chance for a cure and regular screening has been shown to save lives.
Don't wait until you have symptoms - screening should be routine in order pick up any abnormalities before they become cancerous. In most countries the recommended age to begin screen is at 50 years old, but people with an increased risk, such as those with a family history of colon cancer, should consider screening sooner.
There are different types of bowel screening test:
- The faecal occult blood (FOB) test and the faecal immunochemical test (FIT) look for tiny amounts of blood in your bowel motions.
- Virtual colonoscopy uses a CT scanner takes a series of x-rays, which builds up a three-dimensional picture of your bowel. This test may be done instead of a colonoscopy, or it may be done if the colonoscopy did not give a clear enough picture
- Bowel scope screening and colonoscopy use a flexible tube and camera to look for signs of cancer inside the bowel.
As well as identifying early stage bowel cancer, screening will also detect polyps. These are growths that are not cancerous (benign) but may develop into cancer over time. Polyps can easily be removed, which reduces the risk of bowel cancer developing
Stages of Bowel Cancer
If you've been diagnosed with colon cancer, your doctor will need to carry out further tests to determine the cancer stage and help to determine what treatments are most appropriate for you.
- Stage 1: The cancer has grown through the superficial lining (mucosa) of the colon or rectum but hasn't spread beyond the colon wall or rectum.
- Stage 2: The cancer has grown into or through the wall of the colon or rectum but hasn't spread to nearby lymph nodes.
- Stage 3: The cancer has invaded nearby lymph nodes but isn't affecting other parts of your body yet.
- Stage 4: The cancer has spread to distant sites, such as other organs — for instance, to your liver or lung.
The type of treatment your doctor recommends will depend largely on the stage of your cancer. The three primary treatment options are surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
Surgery for early-stage bowel cancer
Earliest Stages: If your colon cancer is very small, your doctor may recommend a minimally invasive approach to surgery, such as:
- Removing polyps during a colonoscopy. If your cancer is small, localized and completely contained within a polyp and in a very early stage, your doctor may be able to remove it completely during a colonoscopy.
- Endoscopic mucosal resection. Removing larger polyps may require also taking a small amount of the lining of the colon or rectum in a procedure called an endoscopic mucosal resection.
Surgery for later-stage bowel cancer:
- Partial colectomy. This is removal of part of your colon that contains the cancer, along with a margin of normal tissue on either side of the cancer. Your surgeon is often able to reconnect the healthy portions of your colon or rectum.
- Surgery to create a way for waste to leave your body. When it's not possible to reconnect the healthy portions of your colon or rectum, you may need an ostomy. This involves creating an opening in the wall of your abdomen from a portion of the remaining bowel for the elimination of stool into a bag that fits securely over the opening. Sometimes the ostomy is only temporary, allowing your colon or rectum time to heal after surgery. In some cases, however, the colostomy may be permanent.
Chemotherapy for bowel cancer is usually given after surgery if the cancer has spread to lymph nodes. In this way, chemotherapy may help reduce the risk of cancer recurrence and death from cancer. Sometimes chemotherapy may be used before surgery as well, with the goal of shrinking the cancer before an operation.
Radiation therapy uses powerful energy sources, such as X-rays, to kill cancer cells, to shrink large tumors before an operation so that they can be removed more easily, or to relieve symptoms of colon cancer and rectal cancer. Radiation therapy either alone or combined with chemotherapy is one of the standard treatment options for the initial management of rectal cancer followed by surgery.
Risk factors of Bowel Cancer:
- Older age. The great majority of people diagnosed with colon cancer are older than 50. Colon cancer can occur in younger people, but it occurs much less frequently.
- African-American race. African-Americans have a greater risk of colon cancer than do people of other races.
- A personal history of colorectal cancer or polyps. If you've already had colon cancer or adenomatous polyps, you have a greater risk of colon cancer in the future.
- Inflammatory intestinal conditions. Chronic inflammatory diseases of the colon, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, can increase your risk of colon cancer.
- Inherited syndromes that increase colon cancer risk. Genetic syndromes passed through generations of your family can increase your risk of colon cancer. These syndromes include familial adenomatous polyposis and hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer, which is also known as Lynch syndrome.
- Family history of colon cancer. You're more likely to develop colon cancer if you have a parent, sibling or child with the disease. If more than one family member has colon cancer or rectal cancer, your risk is even greater.
- Low-fiber, high-fat diet. Colon cancer and rectal cancer may be associated with a diet low in fiber and high in fat and calories. Research in this area has had mixed results. Some studies have found an increased risk of colon cancer in people who eat diets high in red meat and processed meat.
- A sedentary lifestyle. If you're inactive, you're more likely to develop colon cancer. Getting regular physical activity may reduce your risk of colon cancer.
- Diabetes. People with diabetes and insulin resistance have an increased risk of colon cancer.
- Obesity. People who are obese have an increased risk of colon cancer and an increased risk of dying of colon cancer when compared with people considered normal weight.
- Smoking. People who smoke may have an increased risk of colon cancer.
- Alcohol. Heavy use of alcohol increases your risk of colon cancer.
- Radiation therapy for cancer. Radiation therapy directed at the abdomen to treat previous cancers increases the risk of colon and rectal cancer.
If you have any questions about Bowel Cancer, or any other type of cancer, join the Facebook Chemotherapy Support group. You’ll find thousands of people who are fighting cancer right now, and willing to offer advice and give support to anyone that might be struggling.
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