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Bowel cancer

Bowel cancer or colorectal cancer is a general term for cancer that develops in the large bowel. Depending on its origin, it is also known as colon or rectal cancer. Mostly, people over the age of 60 develop bowel cancer. Cancer is when abnormal cells start to grow and divide uncontrollably. Those cells can also develop into surrounding organs or tissues and spread to other body parts.

Bowel cancer symptoms

The three primary symptoms of bowel cancer are:

  • Constant blood in the stool happens either due to a change in bowel habit or for no obvious reasons. 
  • Regular lower abdomen pain, discomfort, or bloating occurs due to loss of appetite or significant abrupt weight loss.
  • Changes in bowel habits, which often lead to wanting to poo more or diarrhea

People with these symptoms might not have bowel cancer; other health issues can also lead to similar symptoms. Example:

  • Blood in the stool can also mean hemorrhoids (piles)
  • Changes in bowel habits or lower abdominal pain can also be due to the food you consumed
  • Wanting to poo more or diarrhea is not often any symptom of severe conditions

You should consider the symptoms more seriously when you get older, and they persist despite simple treatments.

    Bowel cancer symptoms

    Bowel cancer causes

    The particular cause of the condition is still unknown, but multiple things can increase the risk of getting one; those include:

    • Age: 9 in 10 people who develop bowel cancer are 60 or above 
    • Diet: A diet with low fiber or high in red/processed meats 
    • Weight: The tumor is more common among people who are obese or overweight
    • Exercise: Lack of exercise or being inactive 
    • Alcohol abuse 
    • Smoking
    • Family history: The chances of developing bowel cancer can increase if a close relative has or has had bowel cancer under 50. 

    Some might also increase their chance due to other conditions like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease for more than ten years. Although there are risks that you can’t change, you can lower your chances of developing the condition in several ways. 

    Bowel cancer treatments

    A combination of numerous treatments (depending on the place and spread of cancer) is usually the way to treat bowel cancer. 

    The primary treatments are:

    • Surgery 
    • Chemotherapy
    • Radiotherapy
    • Targeted therapies

    Like most cancers, the chances of lowering or curing bowel cancer depend on how far it’s spread. 

    Reviewed by – Dr. Priyanka, MBBS MD Microbiology
    Page last reviewed: 16 JULY 2022