This month, there is much coevrage of the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer as we raise awareness amongst the general public in order to achieve earlier detection levels. Bowel cancer, also known as colon, rectal and colorectal cancer, affects your digestive system and it is the second most common cause of cancer death in Ireland.

What is Bowel Cancer?
The bowel is part of your digestive system. It is made up of two parts, the small bowel and the large bowel.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.

More than 2,700 people in Ireland are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year. 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.

Symptoms of Bowel Cancer
The symptoms of bowel cancer can include:
• A change in your normal bowel motion, such as diarrhoea or constipation.
• Feeling 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.
• Tired and breathless (due to anaemia from blood loss).
• Rectal bleeding or blood in stools.

These symptoms can also be due to complaints other than bowel cancer. But do get them checked out by your GP or a specialist, especially if they go on for more than 4 to 6 weeks.

Risk Factors of 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 a relative (aunt/uncle) has had bowel cancer
• You or someone in your family has/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

Reducing you Bowel Cancer Risk
There are steps you can take to reduce your risk of bowel
• Have a healthy diet – limit the amount of red and processed meat that you eat.
• Avoid being overweight or obese and maintain a healthy body weight.
• Increase the amount of fibre you eat, including at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables each day.
• Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day.
• Don’t smoke.
• Limit the amount of alcohol you drink.
• Be aware of your family history. If a member of your family has or had bowel cancer speak to your doctor about the risk and the need for screening.

If you are concerned about your digestive system or bowel habits please contact your GP or refer to more information on our General Surgeons here