Men and women are equally affected by bowelA common name for the large and/or small intestines.cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. (colorectal cancer). The cancer ideally needs to be detected before it has had a chance to move to the lymphA watery or milky bodily fluid containing lymphocytes, proteins and fats. Lymph accumulates outside the blood vessels in the intercellular spaces of the body tiisues and is collected by the vessels of the lymphatic system. glands. Therefore improved survival is dependent on the diagnosisThe process of determining which condition a patient may have. and surgical treatment of early stage disease (no cancerousMalignant, a tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. spread to the lymph glands or distant organs).
As one of the UK's leading expert in bowel cancer explains, "Most bowel cancers arise from pre-cancerous polypsGrowths on the surface of a mucous membrane (a surface that secretes mucous), lining any body cavity that opens to the outside of the body., and that early detection of these polyps (screeningA way to identify people who may have a certain condition, among a group of people who may or may not seem to) offers the opportunity to prevent bowel cancer developing and to treat the condition before it progresses to an advanced stage."
Mr Austin Obichere at University College Hospital goes on to say, "A smaller proportion of bowel cancers are inherited and a detailed family history by the specialist is required to identify those who may be at risk of the disease."
The presentation of bowel cancer may vary from no symptoms at all to worrisome complaints such as rectal bleeding, a change in bowel habit, weight loss and anaemiaA reduced level of haemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the blood. Anaemia causes tiredness, breathlessness and abnormally pale skin. (low bloodA fluid that transports oxygen and other substances through the body, made up of blood cells suspended in a liquid. count). Sometimes an abdominalRelating to the abdomen, which is the region of the body between the chest and the pelvis. swelling arising from the colonThe large intestine. may be felt by the patient or their doctor. Diagnosis is made by visualising the entire length of large bowel with a fibre optic camera (colonoscope) to locate the site of the tumourAn abnormal swelling., and obtain tissueA group of cells with a similar structure and a specialised function. samples for confirmatory diagnosis. Sometimes it is not possible to complete the colonoscopyExamination of the colon and rectum with a colonoscope, an imaging instrument that is inserted through the anus. for technical reasons or the patient may be considered unfit for the procedure. In such circumstances, a barium enemaA barium enema is a medical procedure used to examine and diagnose problems with the colon (large intestine). X-ray pictures are taken while barium sulphate fills the colon via the rectum. or CTThe abbreviation for computed tomography, a scan that generates a series of cross-sectional x-ray images-pneumocolon / virtual colonoscopy are acceptable alternative methods of examining the large bowel.