As the fourth most common cancer in the UK, bowel cancer is one to know about. Bowel cancer can be silent, but if caught early it is curable.
How does your bowel work?
Your bowel is made up of your small bowel and your large bowel. Cancer is more commonly found In the large bowel. The large bowel is made up of several different parts:
- The Caecum is where your small and large bowels join
- The ascending colon goes up the right side of your abdomen
- The hepatic flexure is the bend between your ascending colon and your transverse colon
- The transverse colon goes across your abdomen, right to left
- The splenic flexure is another bend which goes between your transverse and descending colon
- The descendingcolon goes down the left side of your abdomen
- After that comes your sigmoid colon, an S-shaped bend in the colon that joins on to the rectum
- And finally the rectum, where the waste is stored before it passes out of your body
If you know what to look for you can catch this early:
Change in bowel habit
If you notice that you’re using the toilet more frequently or your stools are changing in consistency then it’s a good idea to note how long this is happening. If this goes on for longer than a week it’s important to have a chat with a doctor to find out why.
Blood in your stool
If you notice blood in your stool you should chat to a doctor. Blood in your stool can look different in many ways. One of these ways is black stools, black stools can happen for many reasons including a stomach ulcer, high iron levels in the blood, or something more suspicious in your large bowel.
Abdominal pain can be caused by less serious things such as trapped wind or a tummy bug. If you have sudden severe pain in your stomach, you should chat to a doctor. Common causes are appendicitis, a bleeding or perforated stomach ulcer, acute cholecystitis, kidney stones or diverticulitis, and bowel cancer.
So how common is it? And how serious? (as per cancerresearchuk.org)
In 2013, there were 41,112 new cases of bowel cancer.
In 2012, 16,187 people died from bowel cancer.
54% of cases of bowel cancer are preventable.
Preventing bowel cancer
There are many things you can do to help prevent bowel cancer.
- Improve your diet by eating less red and processed meat
- Increase the amount of fibre you consume by eating whole grains, pulses, vegetables and fruit
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Increase your exercise by walking to work and going to the gym
- Cut down on alcohol
- Quit smoking
There is a lot of fear about what Doctors have to do to diagnose bowel cancer and although some of the tests are not pleasant they are worth it to catch anything sinister as early as possible.
The first thing to do is have an appointment with a GP. You can do this with your NHS GP or a babylon doctor. Following this you may need blood tests and some scans including an MRI or CT scan. There are other tests that can be done including a colonoscopy/sigmoidoscopy and other scope tests (a camera test of your bowel).
If you are diagnosed with bowel cancer you will need to have staging done, this is to determine if any of the cells have spread. Your doctor will advise you further on this.
Getting a diagnosis of bowel cancer may seem like the end of the world, however there are many treatments and lots of support available to you.
Depending on the stage of the cancer, the treatments may be different. Most bowel cancers may need surgery, although with todays technology you may only need lapracopic surgery. Laprascopic means that you will only need only 5 small wounds on your stomach. A laparotomy surgery is sometimes needed also and this includes one longer wound normally along the centre line of your stomach.
In some cases you may need to have part of the bowel removed and part of the bowel may need to be brought to the outer part of your stomach, this is called a stoma. For many these are temporary and can be reversed in 3-6 months. Having a stoma can be a strange thought however one normally gets used to it very quickly and with the support of nurses and doctors at the hospital you will know how to use your stoma bag in no time.
Other treatments include chemotherapy, radiotherapy and complementary therapies. For more information on what each of these involve you are best to speak to your Oncology doctor.