In the UK, somebody is diagnosed with bowel cancer every 15 minutes. This is around 38,600 people, of whom 16,250 will go on to die.
Bowel cancer is also called colorectal or colon cancer and is one of the top three causes of cancer death.
But if the cancer is caught at an early stage it can be treatable, with 90 per cent of patients living for at least five years.
In the body, the bowel comes in two sections, the small bowel – small intestine, and the large bowel – colon and rectum.
In most cases, cancer will develop in the large bowel. Undigested food goes through the large bowel where water is removed.
The waste that is left stays in the rectum until a bowel motion.
Cancer develops in the large bowel when cells multiply out of control and spread to other parts of the body.
Polyps in the bowel are where cancers usually develop from. Once these polyps are detected they can be removed.
Symptoms of bowel cancer may include:
Bleeding from the bottom or blood in your poo
A change in your bowel habit lasting four weeks or more
Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason
Unexplained weight loss
Pain or lump in your tummy
Risk factors for large bowel cancer include:
High consumption of processed and red meat
Ten per cent of cancers are linked to being overweight or obese
One unit of alcohol consumed every day
Having a first degree relative with bowel cancer
Having diabetes, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
Often considered to be an elderly person’s disease, 2008 figures by Cancer Research UK show the most number of cases does hit the 75 – 79 years age group.
But, though less common, younger people and even children are diagnosed with bowel cancer.
Findings by the charity Bowel Cancer UK, found that awareness of the cancer is really low.
In a survey they conducted recently, nearly 75 per cent of women did not identify the cancer as being one of the top three cancers for women.
This April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month and the charity is aiming to raise awareness of bowel cancer to save lives.
Chief Executive of Bowel Cancer UK, Deborah Alsina says: “Early diagnosis is key to reducing deaths from bowel cancer which is why BCAM 2011 will concentrate on symptom awareness. Too many people are diagnosed at an advanced stage when treatment is less effective. We also recognise the important role GPs play in early detection and as such, throughout 2011 we will be providing them with new resources and information on bowel cancer.”
So why do people know so little about such a killer disease? One that can even strike very young children.
Mother and Fitness Instructor Amanda Lawson has the answer. “People just don’t talk bums,” she says. “It doesn’t make sense – we all have one and bowel cancer is very common.”
Amanda was diagnosed with bowel cancer when she was just 25 years old and had a ten month old baby.
Like most pregnant women, Amanda had experienced pain during the latter part of her pregnancy. But being a first time mum, she didn’t know what pain was normal to experience.
After giving birth, things got worse and she started to bleed. Her GP repeatedly diagnosed piles, something very common to experience after having a baby. But Amanda felt there was more to it.
The pain and bleeding continued and Amanda insisted her doctor refer her to the hospital to “sort out these piles”. After waiting five months to be seen, Amanda was finally diagnosed with advanced colorectal cancer.
The blood Amanda had been getting wasn’t dark as many of us believe it would be. It was bright red. This was because the baby’s head had been pushing on the tumour causing it to bleed.
At the time she was told she probably wouldn’t reach the age of thirty. Devastating news considering she had only just had her daughter. But now at the age of 38, after intensive radiotherapy to shrink the tumour, further surgery and 36 gruelling sessions of chemotherapy, Amanda is determined to be there for her little girl. Sadly, the radiotherapy was on her pelvis, meaning she would be unable to have any more children.
Thirteen years on, Amanda still suffers from the effects of her treatment and finds the hospital almost a second home. Despite this, she is determined to raise the profile of bowel cancer and try to make people more comfortable talking about bums.
For more information about bowel cancer, visit: www.bowelcanceruk.org.uk