WHAT IS IT?
Colorectal cancer, more usually known as colon cancer, is the third most common form of cancer (lung cancer being the most common). It affects the lower part of the digestive system, the large bowel and the rectum, and is more likely to develop as a person gets older. If caught early enough it can be successfully treated.
Symptoms such as rectal bleeding; a lasting change from normal bowel habit; unexplained weight loss; or abdominal or rectal pain have many causes but one is colon cancer. Some people feel tired, or dizzy, or breathless because they have become anaemic from microscopic bleeding from the bowel. For some people the first sign of a problem is bowel obstruction with constipation, severe abdominal pain, vomiting, and often a swollen abdomen.
WHY DOES IT HAPPEN?
People at risk of developing bowel cancer include those with:
- A strong family history of colon cancer.
- A rare condition that runs in families called familial adenomatous polyposis. This causes small non-cancerous growths to develop in the bowel. In time these growths can become cancerous.
- Ulcerative colitis.
People with any of these risk factors are offered regular colonoscopy to screen for colon cancer.
CAN I STOP IT?
Diet is believed to play an important role in bowel cancer.
- People are thought to be more at risk of developing bowel cancer if they have a high fat, low fibre diet that contains lots of meat and alcohol. Also being overweight increases the risk.
- A high fibre diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables and carbohydrates (pasta, bread, rice) is believed to lessen the risk of developing colon cancer.
- Eating at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables each day is believed to protect against this and many different cancers through the benefits of the antioxidant vitamins and minerals.
SHOULD I SEE A DOCTOR?
The most common symptom seen is rectal bleeding and this should never be ignored. Also if a change from your normal bowel habit and / or any of the other symptoms (listed above) persist for more than 2-3 weeks or are recurrent then medical advice should be sought. It is particularly important for those over the age of 40 with any of these symptoms to consult their doctor.
The treatment given depends upon how early the cancer is discovered and includes one or more of the following: