Bowel Cancer: What Happens After a Diagnosis

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April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, and in the UK nearly 43,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year. The best way to combat bowel cancer is with early diagnosis and treatment, so it’s important to be aware of the symptoms and know what the options are after a diagnosis.


What is bowel cancer?

Bowel cancer – or colorectal cancer – tends to develop from the inner lining of the bowel or the colon. It begins as small, benign clumps of cells that are known as polyps, which over time can become cancerous. Colon cancer typically affects adults, mostly over the age of 60, however it can happen to anyone at any age.

If the cancer does develop, there are many treatment options available such as surgery, radiation therapy or even drug treatments. The type of treatment you are offered will depend entirely on the stage of the cancer and how far it has spread in the body. Your doctor will assess your symptoms and take some tests to determine this.


Bowel cancer symptoms

There are 3 main symptoms of bowel cancer, however they can be caused by other health problems too. However, if you notice any of the following symptoms it’s always a good idea to see your doctor as soon as possible to understand what the cause is:

  • Persistent blood in your poo that happens either for no obvious reason or is accompanied by a change in bowel habits
  • Persistent chance in your bowel habit – either having to poo more or having runny poo
  • Persistent pain in the lower abdomen (stomach) or bloating or discomfort that is caused by eating and/or accompanied with loss of appetite or unintentional weight loss
  • Other symptoms can include weakness or fatigue, lump/s in the anus or rectum, anaemia or a feeling that your bowels don’t empty completely.


Bowel cancer screening

Most doctors recommend that people at risk of bowel cancer consider screening once they reach the age of 50, however those with an increased risk such as those with a family history of bowel cancer should consider screening sooner to be safe. Everyone living in the UK aged 60 – 74 and registered with a GP is automatically send a bowel cancer screening home test kit every 2 years.


After a bowel cancer diagnosis

If you have been diagnosed with bowel cancer, you may feel anxious and overwhelmed about what is to come next. Your doctor will discuss with you what your treatment options are and what steps can be taken to get the best possible outcome.

Treatment for bowel cancer will depend entirely on what stage the cancer is. There are a few treatment options and methods available, and your doctor will determine which is the best course of action for you depending on your particular circumstances. This could include:

  • Surgery – in surgery, the cancerous section of the bowel is removed. This is usually the most effective way of treating bowel cancer, and in many cases it can be all the treatment you need to eliminate bowel cancer.
  • Chemotherapy – this is where medication is used to kill the cancer cells
  • Radiotherapy – this is where radiation is used to kill the cancer cells
  • Targeted therapies – this consists of using a newer group of medicines in order to increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy and prevent the cancer from spreading any further.


Bowel cancer stages

The specific stages of bowel cancer tell you how far the cancer has spread and how potentially difficult it can be to treat, which is why catching it in the earlier stages is so important.

  • Stage 1 – this is where the cancer has grown through the inner lining of the bowel or has spread into the muscle wall. However, in this stage it has not yet spread to the lymph nodes or other body parts. Surgery is usually the recommended treatment at this stage.
  • Stage 2 – in this stage, the cancer spread into the outer wall of the bowels and has spread into the tissue or the organs outside the bowel. Again, in this stage the cancer has not yet spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body. Surgery is usually the recommended treatment at this stage, sometimes followed by chemotherapy.
  • Stage 3 – this is where the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, but not to any other body parts. Surgery is usually the recommended treatment at this stage, followed by chemotherapy.
  • Stage 4 – stage 4 bowel cancer is where is has spread to other body parts like the liver and lungs – and is known as advanced bowel cancer. Your doctor may suggest all or a combination of the treatment options available for bowel cancer.


Oncology care at Ramsay Health Care

At Ramsay Health Care, we have the latest technology to investigate bowel/colorectal cancer symptoms and to diagnose bowel/colorectal cancer. We use colonoscopy and blood tests, as well as imaging procedures such as abdominal, pelvic and chest CT scans to help stage your cancer.

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