LIFESTYLE

Bowel Cancer: Symptoms, Treatment, Diagnosis And Prevention Explained

People born in the 1990s have 'double the risk of developing the disease'.

07/03/2017 12:01

People born in the ‘90s have double the risk of developing bowel cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer compared to those born in the 1950s, a new study has found.

Co-author of the study, Rebecca Siegel, from the American Cancer Society, said bowel cancer risk for millennials has escalated back to the level of those born in the late 1800s.

In light of the sobering findings, we’ve spoken to experts about the symptoms of bowel cancer, diagnosis and treatment, as well as how to prevent it.

Peter Cade via Getty Images

What Is It?

Bowel cancer is commonly used to describe cancer in the bowel, however depending on where the cancer starts, it can be called other things - such as colon or rectal cancer.

“It starts as a small polyp, a little bit like a fleshy mole, in the lining of the bowel,” Dr Helen Webberley, the dedicated GP for Oxford Online Pharmacy, told The Huffington Post UK.

“If these polyps are spotted early and are removed, the bowel cancer can’t develop. If these polyps go undetected then they eventually grow and turn cancerous, so the earlier any symptoms are detected the better.”

According to the NHS, bowel cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in the UK and most people diagnosed with the disease are over the age of 60. However that’s not to say that younger people don’t suffer from it too.

There are a number of possible factors which can increase a person’s risk of bowel cancer, these include: old age, a diet high in red or processed meats and low in fibre, being overweight or obese, not exercising enough, drinking alcohol and smoking, or having a family history of the disease.  

Symptoms

Dr Webberley warned that there are a number of key signs to look out for. These include:

:: Changes in bowel habits - for example, going to the toilet more often or a change in the consistency and colour of your stools

:: A lump in your abdomen which doesn’t go away

:: Unexplained weight loss

:: Pain in the abdomen

:: Red or dark-coloured blood in your faeces

Unfortunately, some of these symptoms can be confused with other health problems - for example, piles or eating something that doesn’t agree with you.

If you experience any of the symptoms above, it’s important to speak to your GP.

Diagnosis

Initially, a doctor will examine your stomach to check for any lumps in your abdomen. They will also perform a digital rectal examination (DRE) which helps them identify whether there are any lumps in the back passage. 

Overall, the tests should take less than a minute. 

The NHS also runs a number of bowel cancer-screening programmes and self-screening kits are available to buy from pharmacies. 

“Further hospital tests include using medical instruments to check inside the colon or bowel,” added Dr Nitin Shori, NHS GP and medical director of the Pharmacy2U Online Doctor service.

Treatment

Surgery is the most common treatment for bowel cancer. 

According to Dr Shori, if the cancer is caught quickly enough, it can be possible to remove a small part of the colon.

“Patients often also require chemotherapy or radiotherapy,” he added. 

If the cancer is detected early, treatment can cure bowel cancer and prevent it from coming back. Unfortunately, a complete cure isn’t always possible and there’s sometimes a risk that the cancer could recur at a later stage. 

Prevention

In light of the recent study’s findings, Rebecca Siegel, from the American Cancer Society, said more needs to be done to raise awareness of bowel cancer - especially among young people. 

Dr Webberley added: ”The findings of this report are certainly troubling and once again highlight need for education among the general public. Often these diseases are associated with older people and younger people can dismiss the signs.”

Siegel said educational campaigns are needed to alert clinicians and the general public about the increase in cancer risk among young people, to help reduce delays in diagnosis which “are so prevalent” among them.

She also said they need to be educated about the health benefits of healthier eating and leading active lifestyles, “to try to reverse this trend”.

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