What is bowel cancer

It is also known as colon, rectal or colorectal cancer.

The bowel runs from the stomach to the anus and is made up of the small and large bowel. The small bowel is the upper 600cms of bowel which absorbs your food and nourishment and only rarely is involved with cancer. The large bowel is 100cms long and is made up of the colon and rectum which is where most cancers affecting the bowel occur.

The lining of the bowel is made of cells that are constantly being renewed. Sometimes these cells grow too quickly, forming a clump of cells known as a bowel polyp or adenoma.  Polyps are not bowel cancers (they are usually benign), but they can change into a malignant cancer over a number of years. A malignant cancer is when its cells have the ability to spread beyond the original site and into other parts of the body. Once the cancer has spread to other parts of the body it is much more difficult to cure.

The cancer may form an ulcer or a narrowing in the bowel and obstruction. Cancers often bleed and this may be seen on or in the stool or if it isn't noticed over a long period of time it can make the patient anaemic.

Around 40,000 people will be diagnosed with bowel cancer over the next year in the UK, slightly more men than women.  More than half the people affected will be cured usuall by major surgery.

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