Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in the UK with an increasing number of diagnoses being made in those under the age of 50. In this article, we’re going to tell you ten things you may not have known about bowel cancer.
- Bowel cancer affects the bowel and/or rectum. Bowel cancer is caused by the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells.
- Bowel cancer starts when growths, also known as polyps become cancerous over time. More often than not, the symptoms of bowel cancer will not become apparent until the later stages of the disease.
Bowel cancer is more common than you think
The good news is that if bowel cancer is detected early, there is a high survival rate. Today there are almost 300,000 people living in the UK who have been diagnosed with bowel cancer. The bad news is that bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in the world and the fourth most common cancer in the UK. Almost 42,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year in the U.K, with the disease claiming 16,000 lives each year.
While the overall incidence rate of bowel cancer has been stable since the 1990s, there is an increasing incidence rate in the number of bowel cancer cases in those under the age of 50.
Bowel cancer isn’t a man’s disease
Bowel cancer isn’t an old man’s disease. While there may be a higher likelihood of men being diagnosed with bowel cancer than women, i.e 1 in 15 men vs. 1 in 18 women, the numbers show that the difference is marginal and bowel cancer screening is just as important in women as it is in men.
More bowel cancer cases are diagnosed in younger people each year
Traditionally, bowel cancer has been viewed as a condition that people wouldn’t or shouldn’t need to worry about until later in life. However, more and more reports indicate that it’s important to know your risk from an early age. Things like family history and understanding the symptoms of bowel cancer are paramount to early detection. Today, more than 2,500 people under the age of 50 are diagnosed with bowel cancer in the UK each year.
Traditionally, the screening age for bowel cancer was 60 years of age in the U.K. however, more recently, the public are being offered a colonoscopy at the age of 55 with tests being regularly sent to those aged 60-74 years of age.
The symptoms of bowel cancer often go undetected
Some of the most common symptoms of bowel cancer include a change in bathroom habits, bloating, and rectal bleeding (bleeding from the back passage). Blood in the stool and a feeling that you have not fully emptied the bowel following a trip to the bathroom are also symptoms of bowel cancer.
It’s important to know that the symptoms of bowel cancer often do not become apparent until the cancer has significantly increased in size or has metastasized (spread to other parts of the body) and they can often go undetected as they are not necessarily specific.
In other instances, the symptoms of bowel cancer may be caused by haemorrhoids, polyps, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and diverticulitis, if you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, you need to get checked as soon as possible.
Bowel cancer has 4 stages
Bowel cancer has four stages. If bowel cancer is caught in during stage 1, it is much easier to treat and has a 91% survival rate. If a patient reaches stage 4, it means that the cancer has spread to different and distant locations in the body such as the liver and lungs and there is generally an 11% chance of survival.
Recommended screening ages for bowel cancer vary
Recommended screening ages for bowel cancer vary depending on where you live. In Japan, it is recommended that people attend screening from the age of 40 and upwards. In Finland and Iceland, bowel cancer screening is recommended from the age of 60 onwards.
The recommended age for bowel cancer is under review in the United States with whispers that the screening age will reduce to 45 years of age. The same can be said in the U.K. with recent reports recommending that the screening age is reduced to 50 years of age.
If you fall into a higher-risk demographic, ensure that you attend screening when your doctor recommends that you do, never put it off.
Lifestyle choices do make a difference in determining your bowel cancer risk
Traditionally, it has been accepted that your family history will decide your cancer risk, however recent reports predict that lifestyle choices could have a significant impact on your bowel cancer risk and you can balance some of this genetically determined risk by making healthy lifestyle choices..
While more research is definitely necessary on this topic, factors such as your weight, alcohol consumption, tobacco use and diet will have a significant impact on not just your risk of bowel cancer but also on your chances of beating cancer if you do get it later in life.
Bowel cancer is also known as colon or colorectal cancer
Bowel cancer is also commonly referred to as colon cancer, rectal cancer and colorectal cancer. In the UK, Ireland and a number of European countries, ‘bowel cancer’ is the popular term. In the US, ‘colon’ or ‘colorectal cancer’ is used more frequently.
The terminology around bowel cancer depends on the location of where the cancer started. Bowel cancer is a general term for a cancer that begins in the large intestine and is sometimes called colon, rectal or colorectal cancer.
The risk factors of bowel cancer vary
The risk factors of bowel cancer vary and include ageing, family history, diet and alcohol intake. As mentioned, we know that both genetics and lifestyle play a part in determining cancer risk. We all know that we should try to eat healthily and exercise regularly, but often we don’t understand the overall impact that these healthy habits will have on our cancer risk.
Some of the risk factors that we can control include our diets. We recommend increasing fibre and reducing fat, especially those found in red meat. When it comes to exercise, try to make it regular. Lower alcohol intake and if you ever started smoking, make sure you stop, now!
Some of the risk factors that we can’t control include ageing, our genetics and other bowel related conditions such as Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis.
At the end of the day, your family history will be the most significant factor at play when it comes to your cancer risk. Ask family members about conditions they have experienced in the past. If a first degree relative has been diagnosed with bowel cancer or polyps, you should seek out earlier screening.
You can test yourself for bowel cancer from home
It is now possible to take a bowel cancer test from home with a test known as a faecal occult blood test or faecal immunochemical test. These tests work by identifying blood in the stool that is invisible to the naked eye.
LetsGetChecked have developed a test to make bowel cancer screening more accessible and affordable at £49. The entire testing range gives the public the freedom to take the test at a time and place that works for them. Results are available within a week, and all customers receive on-going support and guidance from the medical team.
CEO and Founder of LetsGetChecked, Peter Foley says “This test makes early screening and therefore early diagnosis a possibility for the public. We hope that our price point and process will ensure that more people will get checked sooner. Whatever the result of their test may be, it is always good to know.”
To learn more about the LetsGetChecked home health tests, visit the website or start a live chat with our team.
Written by Hannah Kingston, Medically Reviewed by Dr. Susan O’ Sullivan