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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, also known as colon cancer, rectal cancer or colorectal cancer, is any cancer that affects the colon (large bowel) or rectum (inside the back passage). It is believed 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 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, there is a type of polyp called an adenoma that can become malignant (cancerous). If these are not found, 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. 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?

BowelHealth offers a private 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. Alternatively, if you have any questions about bowel cancer screening, please contact us.

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