Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK. Find out more about the symptoms to look out for, diagnosis and treatment options available at Cromwell Hospital.
What is bowel cancer?
Bowel cancer, or more specifically cancer of the large intestine or rectum (also known as colorectal cancer), develops from polyps - growths in your large intestine and rectum. However, not all polyps develop into cancer.
Bowel cancer is a fairly common cancer and the second biggest cancer killer. However, it can be treated successfully, especially if diagnosed early.
The main symptoms of bowel cancer are:
- persistent blood in your stool
- persistent mucus in your stool
- needing to go to the toilet more often and runny stools
- lower abdominal pain, bloating or discomfort after eating
- loss of appetite
- unexpected weight loss
Most people with these symptoms do not have bowel cancer. Other health problems can cause similar symptoms.
There is no clear cause for bowel cancer, but there are some factors which might put you at higher risk:
- aged over 50
- family history of bowel cancer
- history of non-cancerous growths (polyps) in your bowel
- inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
- type 2 diabetes
- unhealthy lifestyle
Your surgeon uses a small, thin tube with a camera to look inside your body. Samples (biopsies) can be removed from your bowel and sent to the lab for testing.
If your surgeon finds any polyps during the endoscopy, they will remove them to reduce risk of cancer developing. They will also look for other causes for your symptoms (haemorhoids, diverticulae, anal fissures).
The most common types of endoscopy are:
Flexible Sigmoidoscopy: looks inside your rectum (back passage) and the lower part of the large bowel (sigmoid colon).
Colonoscopy: views your entire large bowel to look for polyps or a tumour.
These scans can provide useful information for the presence of cancer and the spread to other organs. This can help your doctors decide on the most effective treatment for you.
Bowel cancer treatment
The chance of a complete cure depends on how far bowel cancer has spread. Our consultants will talk to you about your options and provide a recommended, personalised treatment plan based on your individual situation.
We provide expert-led treatment for bowel cancer within our Integrated Cancer Campus.
This is where the cancerous section of the bowel is removed. Your surgeon may use open, keyhole or robotic surgery, depending on your specific situation.
We offer robotic surgery via the da Vinci X robot, which has been shown to reduce blood loss and enable a quicker recovery with less post-operative pain.
Targeted therapies are a group of medicines that make chemotherapy more effective by preventing the cancer from spreading. Targeted therapies are sometimes used alongside chemotherapy when the cancer has spread beyond the bowel.