What is colorectal cancer (bowel cancer)

Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK. About 35000 new cases are diagnosed each year with the majority of patients being above the age of sixty. Bowel cancer can however occur in younger people.

Although only 5% of bowel cancers are truly inherited cancers, genetic influences (family history of bowel cancer) appear to be an important. Long standing chronic inflammatory conditions of the bowel such as Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s disease are also thought to be important predisposing factors. Environmental influences such as diet and lifestyle (e.g. smoking) have also been indicted.

A majority of bowel cancers are thought to arise from polyps. This has led to the development of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Programme, which aims to diagnose and treat these polyps before they become cancerous or diagnose bowel cancer in the early stages. Screening is currently available to individuals between 60 and 70 years but is being extended to include those between 55 and 75 .

Bowel cancer can cause a variety of symptoms. Those that warrant urgent medical attention include rectal bleeding and /or a change in bowel habit that persists for more than a few weeks. Persistent abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, unexplained weight loss, and a new lump in the abdomen also warrant urgent medical review. Anaemia with resultant generalised tiredness, lethargy or breathlessness is also recognised as an important presentation of cancer and can often exist without bowel related symptoms. Unfortunately in some patients, bowel cancer remains asymptomatic till the late stages.

The treatment of bowel cancer, the results of treatment and long term outlook (prognosis) depend mainly upon the stage of the cancer at diagnosis (how advanced it is). This is determined initially by scans (CT, MRI) but eventually by microscopic tests conducted on the affected segment of bowel after it have been removed through surgery. A large proportion of patients need surgery as the initial treatment. Some patients with rectal cancer may need chemo-radiotherapy before surgery. About 60% of patients need some form of chemotherapy after their surgery.

On average (across all stages from early to late), about 50% of patients diagnosed with bowel cancer are alive at 5 years. However, the results are much better for patients with the early stages of cancer and for this group a cure is possible.

What should you do if you are concerned?

If you recognise any of the symptoms described above or have any cause for concern, please consult your GP and request a referral to Mr Patel. Self funding patients can also contact us directly through our appointments page.

What can you expect at your consultation?

Mr Patel will take a full history and examine you. The examination may include a quick inspection of your back passage with a short telescope. You may also require a camera examination called a colonoscopy on a different day. Any further tests that may be required will be discussed in detail with you.

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