Bowel cancer refers to cancer developing in the large bowel (colon and rectum). Bowel cancer often develops from a pre-cancerous growth called polyp. Polyps are usually non-cancerous but if untreated, some can develop into cancer.
The exact causes of bowel cancer are not known, but certain risk factors have been recognised to increase the risk of developing bowel cancer:
- Family history of bowel, breast or ovarian cancers consisting of a first degree relative
- Previous diagnosis of ovarian cancer or breast cancer or polyps in the colon or rectum
Previous diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease)
- A diet high in fat, red or processed meat and low in fruit and vegetables
As with most forms of cancer, early detection gives the best chances of cure and survival. Some symptoms of bowel cancer include altered bowel habits, per rectal bleeding, iron deficiency anaemia, incomplete emptying after a bowel movement, abdominal pain and discomfort, loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss.
- Clinical examination of abdomen and back passage
CT scan abdomen and pelvis; MRI pelvis (rectal cancer)
A multidisciplinary approach is taken in managing bowel cancer (specialists including surgeons, radiologist, pathologist and oncologist will meet as a team and review the case and results of investigations to decide on the most appropriate management). Treatment is dependent on the stage of the cancer. The mainstay of treatment for bowel cancer is surgery, which usually involves removal of the affected part of the bowel and the surrounding lymph glands. However, surgery alone is not always successful in treating bowel cancer and often chemotherapy or radiotherapy is given before or after surgery, either to shrink the cancer prior to its removal or to decrease the risk of the cancer recurrence.