Bowel cancer or colorectal cancer is the development of cancer in the large intestine and rectum. One of the most common types of cancer diagnosed in the UK, if detected early before symptoms arise treatment is more likely to be successful.
In the UK the bowel screening programme for men and women aged between 60-74 comprises a Faecal Occult Blood (FOB) test. A stool sample is collected and the test looks for small amounts of blood in the faeces. If the test is positive further investigations will be arranged by your doctor. Screening tests are not one hundred percent accurate as there can be false negative or false positive results. Patients over 50 years of age can consider earlier screening as treatment is more effective at an earlier stage.
There are also tests which detect polyps in the bowel. Polyps are collections of premalignant cells that gather and grow in the colon and can become cancerous over time. Detection by colonoscopy is where a narrow flexible tube with a camera on the tip is used to assess the lining of the large bowel. This procedure requires the bowel to be cleansed beforehand by special laxative medication and during the colonoscopy polyps or cancer can be biopsied or removed.
Virtual Colonoscopy, also known as CT colonography, is a less invasive procedure using low dose radiation CT scanning to obtain an interior view of the colon. Bowel preparation is still required but fewer laxatives may be necessary and sedation can be avoided. CT colonography is less invasive than a colonoscopy because the test does not involve inserting a tube all the way around the colon and is less disruptive to daily activity.
The following symptoms can be signs of bowel cancer (however it is also important to remember that many patients that have these symptoms do not necessarily have bowel cancer); you should seek medical advice if you experience unexplained weight loss, a change in bowel habit lasting 3 weeks or more, persistent abdominal pain, or persistent rectal bleeding. You may experience one or more of these symptoms.
There is evidence to suggest that the risks of bowel cancer may be reduced by stopping smoking, reducing alcohol, reducing red and processed meat in your diet and consuming more dietary fibre from whole grains, fruit and vegetables and drinking plenty of water.