What is bowel cancer?

Bowel cancer, also known as colon or colorectal cancer is a form of cancer that usually begins in the large intestine.

There are four stages of bowel cancer:

  • Stage 1 affects the lining of the colon or rectum.
  • Stage 2 occurs when the cancer has spread to the walls of the colon or rectum.
  • Stage 3 affects the lymph nodes.
  • Stage 4 occurs when the cancer has spread to other organs in the body.

Some of the most common symptoms of bowel cancer include chronic constipation and diarrhoea; blood in the stool or rectum; unexplained fatigue and weight loss; and abdominal pain.

How is it diagnosed?

The surgeon may recommend a colonoscopy in order to make a diagnosis. During this procedure, a colonoscope is used to look inside the colon. The colonoscope is a flexible, narrow tube that comprises a light and a camera. The scope is passed into the anus and gently guided up the colon. During this procedure, images transmitted from the camera to a monitor, will allow the surgeon to pick up on any potential issues. It is also possible to take small samples of suspicious tissue for laboratory analysis.

How can it be treated?

If bowel cancer is diagnosed in its early stages, it is sometimes possible to undergo surgery alone, as the only treatment option. During the surgery, cancerous polyps can be removed. If the polyps have spread into the bowel walls, a section of the colon or rectum may need to be removed. In some cases, lymph nodes may also be removed. If it is possible, the remaining section of the colon will be reattached to the rectum, but if this is not a viable option, the surgeon may recommend a colostomy or ileostomy. During this procedure, the surgeon will make an opening in the abdominal wall, through which waste can be removed.