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Frequently Asked Questions

We have pulled together some of the most common questions about Bowel Cancer. If you can’t find an answer to any questions you have, please refer to the other pages on this site where you can find further information or contact us.



Q. What is the difference between bowel cancer, colorectal cancer and colon cancer?

A. None – they are all terms used for cancer of the large bowel.

Q. Do polyps increase the risk of developing bowel cancer?

A. Yes there is an increased risk of developing bowel cancer if you have polyps known as adenomas, and the risk increases with the number and size of the polyps. If there is a family history of polyps, you are also at a higher risk of developing bowel cancer.

Q. Does a family history of bowel cancer increase my risk?

A. Most cases of bowel cancer do occur in people that have no family history but if you do have a close family member who was diagnosed with bowel cancer before the age of 60, you will have an increased risk of developing the disease.

Q. How is bowel cancer detected?

A. Initial tests for bowel cancer actually detect the presence of blood in a stool (poo) sample. This is known as a faecal occult blood test (FOB) and involves sending a sample of poo to the lab for testing. If blood is detected, further investigations will be necessary and may include a colonoscopy (an examination of the whole of the large bowel using a flexible camera), a flexible sigmoidoscopy (a camera examination of the lower part of the bowel) or a virtual colonoscopy (a CT scan).

Q. What are the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer?

A. Please refer to our bowel cancer symptoms page for a detailed explanation of symptoms and what signs to look out for.

Q. Can I get tested for bowel cancer on the NHS?

A.There is an NHS bowel cancer screening programme in the UK, BUT it is only available to people aged 60 or above (50 or above in Scotland). Since bowel cancer rates start to increase from the age of 45, it is possible to be tested privately with BowelCheck from this age.

Q. Can I prevent bowel cancer?

A. You can reduce your risk of developing the disease, but you can’t prevent it completely. Lifestyle changes can significantly reduce your risk, including giving up smoking, reducing alcohol intake, taking regular exercise, avoiding obesity, reducing consumption of red and processed meats and increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables can all help. There may be some risk reduction with daily low-dose aspirin for those with polyps and/or a strong family history, but this should only be considered in consultation with a General Practitioner and/or Genetics Counsellor.

Q. I have blood in my poo. Do I have bowel cancer?

A. Not necessarily, blood in your poo can be caused by other conditions such as haemorrhoids, bowel polyps and diverticular disease, BUT you should see your doctor immediately for further tests and to rule out the possibility that you do have bowel cancer.

Q. How is bowel cancer treated?

A. How doctors treat bowel cancer depends on the stage of the disease at diagnosis. Surgery is generally required to remove the affected part of the bowel. If the disease is more advanced, you may require chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy as well, and new approaches to treatment are looking at biological therapies that involve the use of monoclonal antibodies designed to reduce the risk of it coming back.

Q. What are the survival rates for bowel cancer?

A. Please refer to our bowel cancer prognosis page for detailed information on survival rates.

Q. How serious is bowel cancer?

A. Bowel cancer is a very serious disease affecting approximately 41,000 people in the UK every year and it is the UK’s second biggest killer. It can be treated, and patients can expect a good outcome if it is caught early enough. In addition, bowel cancer can potentially be avoided if benign (non-cancerous) polyps are found and removed for the bowel, preventing these progressing on to bowel cancer in the future.

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