Cancer symptoms: Signs the deadly disease is multiplying in the large bowel – full list

This Morning: Dr Philippa discusses her bowel cancer diagnosis

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One of the most common cancers in the UK is colorectal cancer – a type of bowel cancer. People in their 60s and above are more at risk, but it can affect younger adults too. Colorectal cancer describes cancer cells in either the colon or the rectum. Colon cancer is part of the large bowel whereas the rectum is the passageway that connects the colon to the anus.

Macmillan Cancer Support reported “around 41,000 people get cancer in the large bowel each year”.

Symptoms of colon cancer include:

  • Blood in your poo
  • Bleeding from the back passage
  • Unexplained diarrhoea or constipation that lasts for three weeks or more
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Tummy pain
  • Back passage pain
  • Feeling like you’ve not emptied your bowels properly after you poo
  • Unexplained tiredness, dizziness or breathlessness
  • Anaemia

If the cancerous tumour causes a blockage in the bowel, you may feel:

  • Constipated
  • Bloated
  • Tummy pain
  • Sick, and you might vomit

The American Cancer Society added that “narrowing of the stools that last for more than a few days” could be a warning sign of bowel cancer.

If you have any of the above symptoms it’s advisable to speak to your GP.

To make the most of your limited time period with a doctor, Cancer Research UK have suggested to do the following beforehand:

  • Write down your symptoms including when they started, when they happen and how often you have them.
  • Write down anything that makes them worse or better.
  • Tell your GP if you are worried about cancer.
  • Tell them if you have any family history of cancer.
  • Take a friend or relative along for support – they could also ask questions and take notes to help you remember what the GP says.
  • Ask the GP to explain anything you don’t understand.
  • Ask the GP to write things down for you if you think it might help.

Various tests will be carried out to investigate the cause further, which may include:

  • Colonoscopy 
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan

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If cancer is diagnosed, treatment will depend on whether it’s colon or rectal cancer, and the stage of the cancer.

The main treatment options for colon cancer are surgery and chemotherapy.

Surgery

In the early stages of colon cancer, the surgeon can remove the cancer from the bowel along a border of healthy tissue; this is known as a local resection.

Alternatively, the surgeon might remove all or part of the colon that contains the tumours; this is known as a colectomy.

Once the tumour is removed, the surgeon then joins the ends of the bowel back together.

In some cases, the ends of the bowel may need time to heal via a stoma.

“The stoma is usually temporary and you have another operation to repair the stoma after a few months,” reassured Cancer Research UK.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells.

These may include:

  • Fluorouracil
  • Capecitabine
  • Oxaliplatin

A person is likely to have chemotherapy if they have stage two or stage three bowel cancer.

The purpose of chemotherapy is to reduce the chance of the cancer returning.

Chemotherapy may also be offered if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

People undergoing this treatment will have chemotherapy every two to three weeks, which is known as a cycle.

Cancer patients may have up to eight cycles of chemotherapy, averaging around six months.

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