Bowel cancer

Bowel cancer is the second most common cancer in Northern Ireland, with around 1,100 new cases and over 400 deaths every year. You should be aware of the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer and take part in the screening programme if you are eligible.

Signs and symptoms of bowel cancer

The initial symptoms of bowel cancer include:

  • blood in your stools (faeces) or bleeding from your rectum
  • a change in your normal bowel habits that persists for more than six weeks, such as diarrhoea, constipation, or passing stools more frequently than usual
  • abdominal pain
  • unexplained weight loss

As bowel cancer progresses, it can sometimes cause bleeding inside the bowel which eventually will mean that your body will not have enough red blood cells. This is anaemia. Symptoms of anaemia include fatigue and breathlessness.

Sometimes bowel cancer can cause an obstruction in the bowel. Symptoms of a bowel obstruction include:

  • a feeling of bloating, usually around the navel (belly button)
  • abdominal pain
  • constipation
  • vomiting

You should contact your GP immediately if you experience any of these symptoms.

Bowel cancer screening

The bowel cancer screening programme aims to detect signs of bowel cancer at a very early stage when there is a good chance that treatment will be successful.

Men and women aged 60 to 74 who are registered with a GP are eligible for screening. If you are in this age group you will be offered the opportunity to take part in the screening programme every two years. Screening is a  test that takes a small stool (faeces) sample and tests it for the presence of blood.

A positive result is an early warning sign that something may be wrong and needs further investigation. Most people have a normal test result.

You can contact the free helpline for more information about the screening kit.

  • telephone: 0800 015 2514

It is very important to have screening because the earlier cancer is diagnosed, the greater the chance of achieving a complete cure.

Causes of bowel cancer

Exactly what causes cancer to develop inside the bowel is still unknown, but certain risk factors have been identified. These include:

  • age - around 80 per cent of bowel cancer cases develop in people who are aged 60 or over
  • eating a high fat diet
  • having a bowel condition, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • having a family history of bowel cancer
  • alcohol misuse
  • smoking
  • obesity
  • Causes of bowel cancer (NHS choices website)

You can reduce your risk of developing bowel cancer by:

Treating bowel cancer

Treatment for bowel cancer will depend on the stage and exact location of your cancer. Bowel cancer can be treated using one or a combination of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery.

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