Dr Liz Towers, MECCG clinical lead for cancer, shares some important facts on bowel cancer.
Bowel cancer also called colorectal cancer, affects the large bowel, which is made up of the colon and rectum. This type of cancer can affect both men and woman and increases with age.
More than 40,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK. That equates to someone every 15 minutes. It is the fourth most common cancer in the UK
Bowel cancer is also the second most common cause of cancer death in the UK. About one in every 20 people will develop bowel cancer during their lifetime.
However, early detection can make all the difference. When bowel cancer is diagnosed early 9 in 10 people will survive the disease for more than five years.
So how do we spot the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer?
The early signs of bowel cancer can vary but can include:
- Bleeding from the bottom without any obvious reason and/or blood in your poo
- Change in your normal bowel habit such as looser poo, pooing more often and /or constipation
- Tummy pain or a lump in your tummy
- Unexplained weight loss
It is important to remember however, that most people with these symptoms don’t have bowel cancer as other health problems can cause similar symptoms. But if you have one or more of these, or if things just don’t feel right, don’t ignore them, go to see your GP - don’t be embarrassed . Doctors are used to seeing lots of people with bowel problems.
How to help yourself
You can reduce your risk of developing bowel cancer by making some simple lifestyle choices:
Keep a healthy weight. If you are overweight, try and lose weight by lifestyle changes of eating healthily and exercising
Stay active.Walking ,swimming, cycling, dancing - the more you can do, the better. Try walking to your local shops instead of taking the car, it can make a difference.
Stop smoking. It's never too late to stop smoking. No matter what age you stop, it reduces your chances of developing cancer and makes a real difference to your health in general. There is also plenty of support and help available from the NHS. Visit smokefree.nhs.uk or call 0800 169 0169 for more information
Eat healthily. Boost the amount of fibre in your diet. Try and eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables each day. Reduce the amount of red and processed meat you like bacon and ham
Cut down on alcohol. Bowel cancer has been linked to a heavy intake of alcohol. The more you cut down, the more you reduce your risk.
Bowel Cancer Screening
As well as making lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of bowel cancer and keeping an eye out for possible symptoms, make sure you go along to your bowel cancer screening when it is offered.
In England, NHS bowel cancer screening is currently offered to everyone aged 60 to 74 who is registered with a GP. You will automatically receive a screening kit in the post when you are 60 years old.
It is important to remember that your GP does NOT have these testing kits, so if you have received one and misplaced it you can request a free kit by ringing: 0800 707 60 60.
More information on screening can be found here.