In the UK cancer of the colon and rectum (bowel cancer) is the third most common cause of cancer death after lung and breast cancer. Mr Rai answers some of the most frequently asked questions.
Q. What are the symptoms of bowel cancer?
The ‘high-risk’ symptoms are (i) change in bowel habit to loose and more frequent stools, (ii) bleeding from the back passage (rectal bleeding) without anal symptoms (iii) blood mixed with stools. These symptoms become more important if you are over 60 years of age and have had these symptoms for 6 or more weeks, or are associated with an abdominal lump, a mass in your back passage (rectal mass) or unexplained iron deficiency anaemia detected by your GP.
Q. I have someone in my family diagnosed with bowel cancer, should I be worried?
Yes, but not unduly so. The vast majority of colorectal cancers happen in older individuals (average age 60-70 years) and are not inherited. However inherited factors do play a role in two ways: (i) Inherited syndromes that run in families caused by specific gene abnormalities that predispose to developing colorectal cancer. These contribute to less than 5% of all colorectal cancers. (ii) The more common 'clustering' or grouping of bowel cancer cases in a family due to inherited and other factors. If you have one (or more) first degree relatives (sibling or parent) diagnosed with bowel cancer at a young age (less than 50yrs), you may require surveillance with colonoscopy (camera test) as you would have a higher risk of having colorectal cancer.
Q. I have inflammatory bowel disease (Ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease), does it increase my risk of developing colorectal cancer?
Yes. If you suffer from Ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease of the colon, then your risk of developing colorectal cancer increases with each passing decade of having the disease. Regular surveillance colonoscopy with biopsy must be undertaken every 2 years.
Q. What is bowel cancer screening and should I take part?
Bowel cancer screening detects bowel cancer in individuals with no bowel symptoms. Screening detects bowel cancer at an early stage and improves cancer survival rates. In England all men and women aged 60 to 69 years are offered screening in the form of a stool test kit to detect occult (or unseen) blood in stools and if positive is followed up by a colonoscopy. You must take part.