Colon Cancer

What is colon cancer?

Colon cancer is also known as bowel cancer and colorectal cancer. The large bowel is composed of the colon and the rectum. Bowel cancer is the third most prevalent type of cancer in the UK and each year around 23,000 new cases of colon cancer and 14,000 cases of rectal cancer are diagnosed. Bowel cancer is the second most prevalent cancer in women and the third most common form of cancer in men.

What causes colon cancer?

In many cases, the cause of cancer is unknown. However, the following risk factors for colon cancer have been identified:

  • Smoking
  • Age: colon cancer is most common amongst people over the age of 60
  • A poor diet: eating a diet that is rich in fibre and low in saturated fat and processed foods will reduce your risk of developing colon cancer
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Family history
  • Being overweight
  • Drinking heavily
  • Bowel conditions: certain bowel conditions increase your risk of developing bowel cancer

Symptoms of bowel cancer

Symptoms of bowel cancer may include:

  • Blood in the stools
  • Alteration in bowel habits
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Abdominal pain or pain in the rectum (back passage)
  • Tiredness
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Feeling like you have not emptied your bowels fully

If bowel cancer has caused the bowel to become obstructed the following symptoms may develop:

  • Vomiting
  • feeling bloated
  • abdominal pain

You should always see your GP if you have blood in your urine or stools or you experience symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain or changes in your bowel movements on a regular basis or for a prolonged period of time.

How is colon cancer diagnosed?

If symptoms of colon cancer are present your GP will examine you and possibly suggest you visit a specialist for further tests. The tests will be carried out in a hospital and may include:

  • Blood tests
  • Colonoscopy
  • Barium enema
  • Proctoscopy or sigmoidoscopy (this allows doctors to see the inner lining of the colon or rectum)

All test results will be analysed and evaluated to allow doctors to reach a firm diagnosis. If colon cancer is diagnosed, a multi-disciplinary team will care for you.

How is colon cancer treated?

There are various treatment options available for treating colon cancer, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and biological therapy. The treatment plan will depend on the individual and a number of other factors, including how advanced the cancer is and the individual's general health.

What is the outlook for people with colon cancer?

The outlook largely depends on how early the cancer is dealt with. The earlier diagnosis is made the better the chances of survival. If cancer is diagnosed in the very early stages around 90 percent of people survive for more than five years after diagnosis. However, if diagnosis is made during the advanced stages survival rates are low.

Living with colon cancer

It may be very difficult to cope with the truth that you have colon cancer, but your care team are there to assist you. If you want supplementary support or advice, you can also contact one of the UK's cancer charities.

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