The exact cause of bowel cancer is not known, but there are a number of things that can increase your risk, including:
age – almost 9 in 10 people with bowel cancer are aged 60 or over
diet – a diet high in red or processed meats and low in fibre can increase your risk
weight – bowel cancer is more common in overweight or obese people
exercise – being inactive increases your risk of getting bowel cancer
alcohol – drinking alcohol might increase your risk of getting bowel cancer
smoking– smoking may increase your chances of getting bowel cancer
family history – having a close relative (mother or father, brother or sister) who developed bowel cancer under the age of 50 puts you at a greater lifetime risk of developing the condition; screening is offered to people in this situation, and you should discuss this with your GP
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.
To detect cases of bowel cancer sooner, the NHS offers 2 types of bowel cancer screening to adults registered with a GP in England:
All men and women aged 60 to 74 are invited to carry out a FIT or FOB test. Every 2 years, they're sent a home test kit, which is used to collect a poo sample. If you're 75 or over, you can ask for this test by calling the freephone helpline on 0800 707 60 60.
An additional one-off test called bowel scope screening is gradually being introduced in England. This is offered to men and women at the age of 55. It involves a doctor or nurse looking inside the lower part of the bowel using a camera on the end of a thin, flexible tube.
Taking part in bowel cancer screening reduces your chances of dying from bowel cancer. Removing any polyps – small growths that can develop on the inner lining of your bottom (rectum) – found in bowel scope screening can prevent cancer.
However, all screening involves a balance of potential harms, as well as benefits. It's up to you to decide if you want to have it.
Read about bowel cancer screening, including more about what the 2 tests involve, what the different possible results mean, and the potential risks to weigh up.
Treatment for bowel cancer
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:
surgery – the cancerous section of bowel is removed; it's the most effective way of curing bowel cancer and in many cases is all you need
targeted therapies – a newer group of medicines that increases the effectiveness of chemotherapy and prevents the cancer spreading
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.