Bowel Cancer

Bay cluster network with Dr Lamah and Reem El-Sharkawi

This month we will focus on bowel cancer. We were saddened to read the news that Deborah James, a 40-year-old mother of two, has been moved to ‘hospice at home care’ to treat her terminal bowel cancer. Since her diagnosis in 2016, Ms James has been sharing candid posts about her progress and diagnosis to her followers on social media. Through podcasts, interviews and social media she has campaigned tirelessly to raise awareness of bowel cancer. Furthermore, her Bowelbabe donation fund in partnership with Cancer Research UK has raised, so far, over £6 million which will be used for clinical trials and research.

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK.  Nearly 43,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK. Approximately 94% of new cases are diagnosed in patients ages over 50, but bowel cancer can affect anyone of any age with approximately 2600 new cases, each year, diagnosed in people under the age of 50.

Symptoms of bowel cancer

The three main symptoms of bowel cancer are:-

  • Persistent blood in poo
  • Persistent change in bowel habit
  • Persistent abdominal (tummy) pain

Other symptoms include:-

  • Extreme tiredness
  • Unexplained weight loss

 Risk Factors

It is unknown what the cause of bowel cancer is but some factors increase your risk:-

  • Aged over 50
  • Strong family history of bowel cancer
  • Inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis
  • Non-cancerous growths (polyps) in your bowel
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • An unhealthy lifestyle

Visiting the GP

During your visit to the GP they will ask lots of questions about your symptoms to gain as much detail as possible.  During examination, they may feel your stomach for any abnormal lumps or tender areas and may also want to perform a digital rectal examination (DRE).

Blood tests and referral to the hospital may also be arranged to see a colorectal specialist.

Investigations

Investigations for bowel cancer include:-

  • Endoscopy
  • Virtual colonscopy (CT colonography)

Endoscopy is a magic eye (camera) which looks inside the body of which there are different types.

CT colonography involves using a CT scanner to produce different images of the bowel. This may be used if endoscopy is not suitable for some patients.

Treatment

Once diagnosed with bowel cancer, the health professionals looking after you meet regularly as a team called a multi-disciplinary team.  During these meetings the specialists will look at your blood tests, imaging, biopsy results and general health and devise the best management plan for you.

Surgery is the most common treatment for bowel cancer.  In some cases, you may have surgery with radiotherapy and chemotherapy to make the cancer easier to remove or if there is a risk the cancer may recur.

We were delighted to read about Deborah James receiving a thoroughly deserved Damehood this month. We hope that through her endless campaign-ing, fund raising and her wish for no ‘other Deborahs to go through this’ that if you are concerned about any bowel symptoms then please see your GP.

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