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Bowel cancer

Bowel cancer is a general term for cancer that begins in the large bowel. Depending on where the cancer starts, bowel cancer is sometimes called colon or rectal cancer.

Bowel cancer is one of the most common types of cancer diagnosed in the UK. Most people diagnosed with it are over the age of 60.

Information:

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The 3 main symptoms of bowel cancer are:

Most people with these symptoms do not have bowel cancer. Other health problems can cause similar symptoms. For example:

These symptoms should be taken more seriously as you get older and when they persist despite simple treatments.

Read about the symptoms of bowel cancer

See a GP If you have any of the symptoms of bowel cancer for 3 weeks or more.

The GP may decide to:

Make sure you see a GP if your symptoms persist or keep coming back after stopping treatment, regardless of their severity or your age. You'll probably be referred to hospital.

Read about diagnosing bowel cancer

The exact cause of bowel cancer is not known, but there are a number of things that can increase your risk, including:

Some people also have an increased risk of bowel cancer because they've had another condition, such as extensive ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease in the colon for more than 10 years.

Although there are some risks you cannot change, such as your age or family history, there are several ways you can lower your chances of developing the condition.

Find out more about:

To detect cases of bowel cancer sooner, everyone aged 60 to 74 who is registered with a GP and lives in England is automatically sent a bowel cancer screening home test kit every 2 years.

If you're 75 or over, you can ask for a kit every 2 years by phoning the free bowel cancer screening helpline on 0800 707 60 60.

The programme also includes some 56 year olds.

For the screening test, you use a home test kit to collect a small sample of poo and send it to a lab. This is checked for tiny amounts of blood.

Blood can be a sign of polyps or bowel cancer. Polyps are growths in the bowel that may turn into cancer over time.

Read about bowel cancer screening.

Bowel cancer can be treated using a combination of different treatments, depending on where the cancer is in your bowel and how far it has spread.

The main treatments are:

As with most types of cancer, the chance of a complete cure depends on how far it's spread by the time it's diagnosed. If the cancer is confined to the bowel, surgery is usually able to completely remove it.

Keyhole or robotic surgery is being used more often, which allows surgery to be performed with less pain and a quicker recovery.

Read more about how bowel cancer is treated

Bowel cancer can affect your daily life in different ways, depending on what stage it's at and the treatment you're having.

How people cope with their diagnosis and treatment varies from person to person. There are several forms of support available if you need it:

You may also want advice on recovering from surgery, including diet and living with a stoma, and any financial concerns you have.

If you're told there's nothing more that can be done to treat your bowel cancer, there's still support available. This is known as end of life care.

Read about living with bowel cancer