Bowel & Colorectal Cancer

What is bowel/colorectal cancer?

Bowel/colorectal cancer is cancer that begins in your large bowel. It can also be called colon cancer or rectal cancer depending on where the cancer starts. Most bowel cancers occur in the rectum.

Bowel and colorectal cancer usually develop from small growths on your bowel wall that are called polyps. Most polyps are harmless and are called benign. However, some polyps become cancerous over time and are known as malignant polyps.

Cancerous polyps start to grow quickly and in a strange way. They can grow not just on your bowel lining but into the deeper layers of your bowel wall and to your surrounding tissues including your lymph nodes nearby. If bowel/colorectal cancer advances further, it can spread to other parts of your body such as your liver and lungs. In most cases, bowel cancer grows slowly over many years.

Bowel cancer is categorised into stages that tell you where the cancer is and how far it has spread. Staging bowel/colorectal cancer will help your doctor to determine the best treatment.

As with all cancers, the sooner bowel cancer is detected and diagnosed the better your outcome and chance of survival. It is important to see a doctor as soon as possible if you have bowel/colorectal symptoms. Your doctor will recommend bowel/colorectal cancer tests to investigate your symptoms further.

Most people diagnosed with bowel/colorectal cancer are over the age of 60. Bowel cancer screening is offered on the NHS every two years if you are aged between 60 and 74. This age range is due to be extended to include people aged 50 to 59.

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