Bowel cancer

The tissues and organs of the body are made up of cells. These age and become damaged, and need to repair and reproduce themselves continually.

Sometimes during this process, normal cells can become abnormal, and as a result of a long series of changes, these abnormal cells can become cancerous.

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer in the UK. There are nearly 42,000 cases* diagnosed each year in both women and men.

Who is most likely to get bowel cancer?

The cause of most bowel cancers is still unknown, but we do know that risk increases with age (95% of bowel cancer cases are found in people aged 50 or over*).

However, bowel cancer can affect anyone at any age. On average, people with a family history have a slight increased lifetime risk of developing the disease.

Signs and symptoms of bowel cancer

Bowel cancer can be suggested by one, or a combination of the following:

  • change in bowel habit, usually as an increase in frequency or how loose the stool is
  • increased bouts of constipation
  • blood and/or mucus in your stool
  • decreased appetite and weight loss for no known reason
  • lethargy or general ill health because you have been losing blood from your bowel causing anaemia
  • a feeling of not being able to completely empty your bowels (this is known as tenesmus)
  • vague discomfort in the abdomen, or even a colicky type of pain, often related to bowel actions

The diagnosis of colorectal cancer can be made from the results of tests and investigations.

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