Around one in twenty people living in the United Kingdom will develop bowel cancer during their lifetime (source: www.nhs.uk). The sooner bowel cancer is detected before symptoms come about, the better the chances are of recovering from the disease.
It is the second most common cause of cancer death in the United Kingdom and is a term used to describe cancer that begins in the large bowel. Cancer can also start in the small intestine but small bowel cancer is rare.
April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month encouraging people to talk about the disease with family, friends, workmates or neighbours. Bowel Cancer Awareness Month is also an opportunity to raise awareness of bowel cancer screening. Screening is the best way of detecting bowel cancer at an early stage.
So what are the initial symptoms to look out for?
Blood in your stools (faeces) or bleeding from your rectum
Changes in your normal bowel habits, such as diarrhoea or constipation, which persevere for more than three weeks
Unexplained weight loss
If you have any of the above symptoms, see your GP. Sharon West, specialist bowel cancer screening practitioner at our Trust, says: “Support and advice will always be available to those who have been diagnosed. Friends and family can be a powerful support system and talking to others who are in the same situation can be a good way to learn about the condition. Reading about symptoms and treatments will also help in gaining a better understanding of the disease.”
Undergoing surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy are some of the treatments available to help tackle bowel cancer. People can also receive biological therapy treatment. Biological therapies are drugs that can help the body control the growth of cancer cells.
What can be done to beat bowel cancer? Sharon says: “People who exercise for at least 150 minutes a week will have a lower risk of developing bowel and other cancers. An increase in physical activities will help to keep your weight under control and lower the risk of cancer developing.
“Another step you can take in order to prevent bowel cancer is to have regular screenings. Men and women aged 60-74 who are registered with a GP will automatically be sent an invitation for screening through the post. Those who are aged over 74 can opt in by calling the bowel cancer screening helpline on 0800 707 6060.
“Eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as whole grains can help minimise the risk of getting bowel cancer. Avoid having a high sugar diet. For British Asians, eating jelabis and sweetmeats regularly can not only lead to you having bowel cancer, you could also develop other types of cancer and heart disease.”