Bowel cancer refers to the growth of cancerous polyps, which commence in the lining of the bowel. It is the third most common type of cancer in both males and females and is the second most fatal type of cancer in Australia.
There are two classifications of bowel cancer: colon cancer, which is responsible for 68% of all cases in Australia, and rectal cancer, responsible for the remaining 32% of patients.
According to Bowel Cancer Australia, on average, 15,325 people are diagnosed with this type of cancer annually, and 5,336 of those patients pass away.
Men are more at risk of bowel cancer and around 55% of all cases are attributed to males. Older men are more at risk of being diagnosed with this type of cancer. Other factors such as race, lifestyle choices, and genes play a role in the onset of this condition as well.
Although it is one of the deadliest cancers prevalent across the Australian population, effective treatment is a possibility if it is diagnosed early.
Unfortunately, only 50% of cases are diagnosed at a treatable stage, due to the lack of knowledge about symptoms, which has led to a high mortality rate among patients.
Symptoms of bowel cancer in men and women
Most bowel cancer patients may not experience severe symptoms in the early stages of this condition. Nonetheless, there are certain signs that are noticeable at an early stage.
Here is a list of early symptoms of bowel cancer in men and women:
- Abdominal cramps
- Abdominal pain
- Changes in stool colour
- Changes in the shape of faeces
- Blood in the stool
- Bleeding from the rectum
- Excessive gas
If you are in a more advanced stage of bowel cancer, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Excessive tiredness and weakness
- Unexplained weight loss
- Changes to stool that lasts more than a month
If cancer has spread to nearby organs and other parts of the body, you may experience:
- Swelling of feet and hands
- Bone fractures
- Breathing difficulties
- A chronic headache
- Blurred vision
It’s important to note that individuals with irritable bowel syndrome may also experience some of the early symptoms of bowel cancer. That is why it is necessary to consult a doctor if you experience any of the symptoms outlined above.
Diagnosis of bowel cancer
Australian medical bodies recommend bowel cancer screening, which involves testing faecal samples of healthy individuals between the age of 50-75 to diagnose bowel cancer in its early stages.
If you are already experiencing certain symptoms, your doctor may perform a series of tests to ascertain the cause. Bowel cancer tests include:
- A physical examination: Your doctor may perform a physical test to detect lumps in the abdomen.
- Colonoscopy: A flexible tube with a camera is inserted through the rectum to detect polyps and cancerous growth in the colon.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy: A flexible tube with a camera is used to detect tumours in the sigmoid colon.
Treatment of bowel cancer
Your doctor may administer treatment after ascertaining what stage the cancer is in, as different stages of cancer may require different types of treatment.
Listed below are the main types of treatment provided if you are diagnosed with bowel cancer:
- Surgery: In the early stages of bowel cancer, your doctor may be able to remove the cancerous polyps that grow in the lining of your bowel. If the polyps have infiltrated the lining of your bowel, the surgeon may remove a part of the colon.
- Chemotherapy: Preceded by surgery, this type of treatment uses drugs to kill cancer cells in the colon.
- Radiation treatment: Sometimes done in conjunction with chemotherapy, this treatment uses lasers to destroy cancer cells in the bowel.
Early detection is one of the most effective ways to treat and manage bowel cancer
Bowel cancer is one of the deadliest and most common types of cancers in Australia, which may be treated and managed effectively if it is diagnosed early.
Be mindful of the symptoms of bowel cancer in men and women and consult your doctor if you notice any of them.