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What is Bowel Cancer?

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bowel cancer affects the colon (large bowel) and rectum (back passage)

Bowel cancer can also be known as colon cancer, rectal cancer or colorectal cancer. It is any cancer that affects the colon (large bowel) or rectum (inside the back passage). We believe that bowel cancer usually grows very slowly over a period of up to 10 years. It may then subsequently spread to other parts of the body.

How and where bowel cancer develops

The large bowel is made up of the colon and the rectum, both of which are situated in the tummy (see diagram), and it forms the lower part of the digestive system. Most bowel cancers start as benign (non-cancerous) polyps (growths) which are found on the wall of the bowel. Polyps are like small spots or cherries on stalks. Most polyps do not produce any symptoms, are common as we get older and are not cancerous.

However, the type of polyp called an adenoma can become malignant (cancerous). If these are not found, the cancer cells will multiply to form a tumour in the bowel. This may cause pain, bleeding and other bowel cancer symptoms such as a persistent change in bowel habit with diarrhoea. If left untreated, the cancer cells in the wall of the bowel may travel into the bloodstream and then to other parts of the body. The most common places for bowel cancer cells to spread to are the lymph glands, liver and the lungs.

Bowel cancer outcomes

Bowel cancer is a very serious disease being the UK’s second biggest killer, but it shouldn’t be. It can be treated and patients can expect a good outcome if caught early enough. In fact, bowel cancer can be prevented if the benign growths (or polyps) that it forms from are found and removed. If bowel cancer is detected at its earliest stage, there is a greater than 90% chance of curing it. See more about bowel cancer prognosis and survival rates here.

Worried about Bowel Cancer?

If you are worried about bowel cancer, BowelHealth UK offers a bowel cancer screening service called BowelCheck, in the form of a simple home testing kit. You can find out more about BowelCheck and how it works on our dedicated BowelCheck page or by downloading the BowelCheck brochure. Alternatively, if you have any questions about bowel cancer screening, please contact us.

BowelCheck
If you want fast, accurate screening for bowel cancer
BowelGene
If you have a family history of bowel cancer
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