Bowel cancer happens when cells in the bowel change and start to grow quickly and form a tumour. If the tumour is malignant and is not treated, it will affect how the bowel works. Most bowel cancers occur in the large bowel. Bowel cancer is also known as colorectal cancer or cancer of the colon and rectum.
Almost 2,500 people in Ireland are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year. Early diagnosis is key to reducing the number of fatalities associated with bowel cancer. The symptoms of bowel cancer include the following:
- Blood in your bowel motion or bleeding from the back passage
- A lasting change (more than a month) in your normal bowel motion, such as diarrhoea or constipation
- Feeling that you have not emptied your bowel fully after a motion
- Pain or discomfort in your abdomen (tummy) or back passage
- Trapped wind or fullness in your tummy Weight loss for no reason
- Ongoing general tiredness or weakness
The exact cause of bowel cancer is unknown though it usually occurs in those over 60 years of age. However younger people may also develop bowel cancer.Your risk of getting bowel cancer is higher if:
- You eat a diet high in fats and low in fruit, vegetables and fibre
- You are obese or overweight
- You have had a previous bowel cancer
- A member of your immediate family (mother/father/brother/sister) or relatives (aunt/ uncle) has had bowel cancer
- You or someone in your family has or had polyps ( abnormal growth of tissue in the lining of the bowel)
- You have a history of bowel conditions like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
Luckily, for people in Ireland aged 60 to 69, Ireland’s BowelScreen (the National Bowel Screening Programme) is a programme which aims to find bowel cancer at an early stage in people who have no symptoms.
Bowel screening consists of a simple home test (called a FIT – faecal immunochemical test) that looks for tiny amounts of blood, which are not visible to the eye, in your bowel motion (also known as a stool). Blood in the stool can be due to a number of causes or minor conditions. But it can also be an early warning sign that something might be wrong. The bowel screening test does not tell you if you have bowel cancer but it might tell you that you need more tests.
If you notice any unusual changes in your body, specifically your bowel movements, or if you have health concerns, please visit your GP.
If you do need to see a General or Colorectal Surgeon, we have a range of Consultants who specialise in the diagnosis of bowel cancer.