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Bretton Health Centre
Bowel cancer is a general term for cancer that begins in the large bowel. Depending on where the cancer starts, bowel cancer is sometimes called colon or rectal cancer.
Bowel cancer is one of the most common types of cancer diagnosed in the UK. Most people diagnosed with it are over the age of 60.
This page covers:
The three main symptoms of bowel cancer are:
The symptoms of bowel cancer can be subtle and don't necessarily make you feel ill.
However, it's worth waiting for a short time to see if they get better as the symptoms of bowel cancer are persistent.
If you're unsure whether to see your GP, try the bowel cancer symptom checker.
Bowel cancer symptoms are also very common, and most people with them don't have cancer.
These symptoms should be taken more seriously as you get older and when they persist despite simple treatments.
Read about the symptoms of bowel cancer.
Try the bowel cancer symptom checker for advice on what you can try to see if your symptoms get better, and when you should see your GP to discuss whether tests are necessary.
Your doctor may decide to:
Make sure you see your doctor if your symptoms persist or keep coming back after stopping treatment, regardless of their severity or your age. You'll probably be referred to hospital.
Read about diagnosing bowel cancer.
It's not known exactly what causes bowel cancer, but there are a number of things that can increase your risk.
Although there are some risks you can't change, such as your family history or your age, there are several ways you can lower your chances of developing the condition.
Read more about the causes of bowel cancer.
To detect cases of bowel cancer sooner, the NHS offers two types of bowel cancer screening to adults registered with a GP in England:
Taking part in bowel cancer screening reduces your chances of dying from bowel cancer. Removing any polyps found in bowel scope screening can prevent cancer.
However, all screening involves a balance of potential harms, as well as benefits. It's up to you to decide if you want to have it.
To help you decide, read our pages on bowel cancer screening, which explain what the two tests involve, what the different possible results mean, and the potential risks for you to weigh up.
Read more about screening for bowel cancer.
Bowel cancer can be treated using a combination of different treatments, depending on where the cancer is in your bowel and how far it has spread.
The main treatments are:
As with most types of cancer, the chance of a complete cure depends on how far it has advanced by the time it's diagnosed. If the cancer is confined to the bowel, surgery is usually able to completely remove it.
Keyhole or robotic surgery is being used more often, which allows surgery to be performed with less pain and a quicker recovery.
Read more about how bowel cancer is treated.
Bowel cancer can affect your daily life in different ways, depending on what stage it's at and the treatment you're having.
How people cope with their diagnosis and treatment varies from person to person. There are several forms of support available if you need it:
You may also want advice on recovering from surgery, including diet and living with a stoma, and any financial concerns you have.
If you're told there's nothing more that can be done to treat your bowel cancer, there's still support available from your GP. This is known as palliative care.
Read about living with bowel cancer.