What is bowel cancer

Bowel cancer can also be known as colon cancer, rectal cancer or colorectal cancer. It is any cancer that affects the colon (large bowel) or rectum (inside the back passage). The experts believe that bowel cancer usually grows very slowly over a period of up to 10 years. It may then subsequently spread to other parts of the body.

How and where bowel cancer develops

The large bowel is made up of the colon and the rectum, both of which are situated in the tummy (see diagram), and it forms the lower part of the digestive system. Most bowel cancers start as benign (non-cancerous) polyps (growths), which are found on the wall of the bowel. Polyps are like small spots or cherries on stalks. Most polyps do not produce any symptoms and are common as we get older. Most polyps are not cancerous. However, the type of polyp called an adenoma can become malignant (cancerous). If these are not found, the cancer cells will multiply to form a tumour in the bowel. This may cause pain, bleeding and other bowel cancer symptoms such as a persistent change in bowel habit with diarrhoea. If left untreated, the cancer cells in the wall of the bowel may travel into the bloodstream and then to other parts of the body. The most common places for bowel cancer cells to spread to are the lymph glands, liver and the lungs.

Bowel cancer outcomes

Bowel cancer is a very serious disease being the UK’s fourth biggest killer, but it shouldn’t be. It can be treated and patients can expect a good outcome if caught early enough. In fact, bowel cancer can be prevented if the benign growths (or polyps) that it forms from are found and removed. If bowel cancer is detected at its earliest stage, there is a greater than 90% chance of curing it.
More information
If you are interested in reading more about bowel cancer please click on the links below:

  • Questions and Answers by BowelHealth UK – here
  • BowelCancer UK - here
  • NHS information - here
  • Beating Bowel Cancer – here

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bowel cancer affects the colon (large bowel) and rectum (back passage)

Worried about Bowel Cancer?

If you are worried about bowel cancer you can test your risk of having bowel cancer by clicking here.