owel cancer is cancer in any part of the colon or rectum. Untreated it will increase in size and may cause a blockage or can ulcerate leading to blood loss and anaemia. What is the bowel?
The bowel is a 6-metre-long tube made of muscle, with a lining similar to the inside of the cheek. It is part of the digestive system and extends from the stomach to the rectum and anus. There are two parts of the bowel - the small bowel and the large bowel. Food and liquid are broken down in the stomach and then passed into the small bowel to be digested. From there, the nutritional parts of food are absorbed into the bloodstream and the remains pass into the large bowel. The large bowel is made up of two parts - the colon and the rectum. The colon is the first one-and-a-half metres of the large bowel, and the rectum is the last 12 to 15cm, ending at the anus. The colon removes liquid from digested food, which is turned into solid waste. The rectum holds this solid waste until it is expelled as a bowel motion (faeces).Symptoms
Knowing the symptoms to look out for is vital to ensure the early diagnosis of bowel cancer. If symptoms persist for six weeks or more, you should visit your doctor.
Symptoms to look out for:
Other higher-risk symptoms and signs include:
- Change of bowel habit
- Recent, persistent change of bowel habit to looser, more diarrhoea-like motions.
- Going to the toilet more often.
- Change of bowel habit is especially important if you also have bleeding.
- Rectal bleeding that persists with no anal symptoms. Bleeding can be due to piles so you will need to have any bleeding checked.
- If you are over 60 and suffering from rectal bleeding, it is important to go for further investigation. Piles in older people can hide more serious symptoms.
- Unexplained anaemia.
- A lump in your stomach.
- Persistent, severe stomach pain, which has come on recently for the first time (especially in an older age group)
Diet, lifestyle and family history are the three things most likely to affect a person’s chances of developing bowel cancer. Your risk of bowel cancer also increases with age, but it does affect younger people. Bowel cancer affects men and women almost equally, although research suggests slightly more men die from the disease. Scientists are still unsure about the causes of bowel cancer, which usually starts as a benign (not cancerous) polyp that becomes cancerous. A polyp is a mushroom-like growth that occurs inside the bowel. Only about 5% of polyps develop into cancer.
The following factors may increase the risk of developing bowel cancer:
Family history of bowel cancer
- A diet high in fat and protein and low in fruit and vegetables
- Alcohol consumption
- Weight gain, particularly around the waist
- Low rates of physical activity.
Rare genetic conditions
- Having a parent, brother, sister or child who has had bowel cancer
Other conditions that may increase risk
- Hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC)
- Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
- Having had Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis for more than 10 years.
While no cancer is completely preventable, you can lower your risk of bowel cancer by eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly.
- Eat plenty of vegetables, legumes (dried beans, peas or lentils), fruits & cereals
- Include lean meat, fish and poultry.
- Include milks, yoghurts and cheeses. Reduced fat varieties should be chosen where possible.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Limit saturated fat and moderate total fat intake.
- Limit your intake of red meat and processed meat.
- Choose foods low in salt.
- Limit your alcohol intake if you choose to drink.
- Consume only moderate amounts of sugars and foods containing added sugars.
- Quit smoking.
People who have bowel cancer in their family, or a genetic predisposition to the disease, should be offered regular screening regardless of whether they are showing symptoms
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