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While bowel cancer can occur anywhere in the bowels, the vast majority of cases occur in the large bowel—the colon, for the purposes of his article, we will refer to bowel cancer and colon cancer interchangeably. These cancers begin as small polyps in the colon or rectum and can be seen on colonoscopy. As they grow, they begin to change the bowel habits and there are more symptoms.
As with all cancers, the important points should include early detection of colon cancer, surgery, radiation, and/or chemotherapeutic medications. These together can cure colon cancer.
Symptoms of bowel cancer include blood in the stools, prolonged diarrhoea and/or prolonged constipation, unexplained change in bowel habits and unexplained weight loss. In some cases, colon cancer starts in the caecum, which technically starts with the small colon.
Who is most affected by bowel cancer? In UK and in the US, it is the third most common type of cancer. In women, it is the second most common type after breast cancer and in men, it is the third most common type after prostate and lung cancer. About 72 percent of cases of bowel cancer people are over the age of 65 years. Two thirds bowel cancers develop in the colon while one third develop in the rectum.
Risk factors for colon cancer include:
There is a difference between the screening for colon cancer in the US and in UK. In the US, patients are offered a screening colonoscopy beginning at the age of 50 and repeating the test every ten years. Stool for occult blood is a test offered every two years in between colonoscopy. In UK, screening is offered every two years starting at the age of 60 through 75. The screening test is a faecal occult blood test. It is a test in which stool is smeared onto a special card that shows blue if a drop of liquid is dropped on it. A flexible sigmoidoscopy is being introduced into the UK in coming years and is done on everyone.
Screening plays a big role in the fight against cancer. Cancers can be detected at a younger age and stage than ever before so that there can be a quicker and more thorough cure for the disease. There are fewer cases of metastatic disease and fewer people die from colon cancer when detected at a lesser stage. Right now the colonoscopy is considered the gold standard of colon cancer screening. If it finds a cancer in the first stage, it is considered completely curable.
Treatment of bowel cancer relies on a combination of treatments, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. In some cases, biological therapy has been used. The chance of survival depends on how far along the cancer has progressed at the time of diagnosis. If you find the cancer in stage I, there is a ninety percent five year survival rate. If bowel cancer is found when it is metastatic, stage IV, the chances of surviving past five years is only about six percent.
Treatment starts with surgery to remove the bulk or all of the tumour and then removing lymph nodes that are involved. Then comes radiotherapy to singular metastases or chemotherapy to get rid of all metastases or areas where the tumour could not be moved.
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