Bowel cancer usually starts as slow growing polyps or ulcers attached to the inside of the bowel wall. These can gradually start to change and become abnormal over time. Untreated, these polyps and ulcers can gradually increase in size, becoming cancerous.
There are many common conditions that can affect the health of our bottoms and bowels. Many symptoms are similar to those of bowel cancer so it is important to get checked out by your older relative's doctor. Their doctor will examine them and take a careful history to make sure that whatever is causing the problem is investigated properly and treated promptly. Your older relative should not be embarrassed, or put off.
Bowel cancer is the UK’s second biggest cancer killer – claiming a life every half an hour. Over 110 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every day -that is someone every 15 minutes. Over 41,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year and affects men and women almost equally.. Although it is most commonly associated with people over the age of 60, bowel cancer can affect anyone at any age. Despite these shocking statistics, at least one in four people are unaware of the disease, or the symptoms associated with it. The good news is that bowel cancer can be successfully treated in over 90% of cases, if it is diagnosed at an early stage, before it has had a chance to grow and spread
Regular bowel cancer screening has been shown to be very effective in detecting early changes in the bowel. Bowel cancer screening aims to detect signs of bowel cancer at an early stage before obvious symptoms occur. Bowel cancer screening is available to eligible people every two years and everyone that is eligible is urged to take it up when offered. Screening kits are sent through the post automatically, to the address registered with the GP. In England and Northern Ireland, screening is offered to people aged 60 and 69, though in England this is gradually being extended to include people aged 70-74. In Scotland, people are currently offered screening from ages 50-74, and in Wales people are offered screening from ages 60-74.7-10
If your older relative is over the eligible age for automatic screening, you can still request to be send a screening kit by calling the National Screening Helpline:
England: 0800 707 60 60
Scotland: 0800 012 18 33
Wales: 0800 294 33 70
Northern Ireland: 0800 015 25 14
The existing screening programme is a simple FOB (faecal occult blood) test, which detects blood hidden in the small samples of poo. The test is completed at home over the course of a few days then returned by post to a central laboratory for testing. The FOB test does not diagnose bowel cancer, but can find blood in the poo. A positive test will trigger an invitation to retake the test, if this is also positive the patient will have further investigations to find out what is causing the bleeding. GPs are not involved in the process – the screening kit is sent to your home directly from the NHS screening programme.. It involves handling poo, so although the test is simple, people may be squeamish about taking samples of their poo. It is done at home and it is up to the patient to complete and return the test
We all experience problems with our bottoms and bowels from time to time. Usually there is nothing to worry about. However, if you or your older relative notices one or more of the following symptoms for more than three weeks, then their GP will want to see them. The early symptoms for bowel cancer can include blood in the poo, or loose stools for three weeks or more, although these are very similar to other, much less serious problems with the bowel. It is very important to be aware of what is normal, so you can recognise any unusual changes and act quickly to get them investigated. f you are worried, consult your GP. Chances are it’s nothing to worry about, but these symptoms could be signs of bowel cancer, so tell your parent’s doctor. Finding bowel cancer early makes it more treatable and could save your life
• Whilst the exact causes of bowel cancer aren’t known, there are certain things that can be done to reduce the risk, for example, not getting enough exercise, eating a poor diet, having a high alcohol intake or smoking) and sometimes there is nothing you can do about the risk for example your age or a family history
Symptoms could be caused by other common conditions, that can easily be treated and managed:
• Piles or haemorrhoids – soft swellings just inside the anus, often accompanied by other symptoms such as pain and itching. Piles can cause bright red bleeding from the bottom, and you might be able to feel them with a finger, especially after going to the toilet.
• Anal fissures – a tear in the skin around the opening of the anus, often caused by constipation, for example.
• Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – IBS is a collection of symptoms, such as stomach cramps or pain, diarrhoea and/or constipation, and a change in bowel habits caused by inflammation and infection in the lining of the bowel. People with IBS do not have higher risk of developing bowel cancer, or any other serious bowel condition.
• Crohn’s Disease, diverticular disease and ulcerative colitis – other common inflammatory bowel diseases with symptoms that include abdominal pain, tiredness, weight loss, sores, bloating, bleeding and mucus. These diseases can also put your older relative more at risk of developing bowel cancer and the GP should monitor them regularly.
If you or your older relative is experiencing any of these symptoms, they should see their GPstraight awayThey can offer practical advice, effective treatment and support. Don’t be embarrassed and don’t put it off
The doctor should then examine the tummy and do a rectal examination (a quick, internal check with a gloved finger) in order to feel for anything unusual in the back passage. He/she may also want to do a blood test to check for anaemia. If the GP does not refer you right away for further tests or investigations, do agree a time frame to go back, and make sure your parent does, if their symptoms do not settle down after any treatment they prescribe. Most people referred will not have bowel cancer, but the earlier they find this out, the better. symptoms
A bowel cancer diagnosis can have a wide reaching and unexpected impact, both physically and emotionally. It can take time to come to terms with it, not only for the individual with cancer, but also for their family, carers, colleagues and friends, all of whom need support. As a relative, you may have just as many questions and concerns as your loved one. Beating Bowel Cancer’s carers forum is a great place to get information and support from a huge range of people who have also been affected by bowel cancer. The online community is a strong, friendly group of relatives and carers of patients at all stages of the bowel cancer journey and can be accessed online 356 days a year. Many UK hospitals have support groups and rehabilitation projects being run by individual colo-rectal and stoma specialist nurses, which focus on helping your older relative to develop coping skills and confidence in managing their symptoms and any side effects they may experience following treatment
If your relative is are on a palliative care pathway, living with bowel cancer and having treatment to manage symptoms as they arise, then your parent can get the added support of a Macmillan specialist nurse in the community. He/she will help them to access the services and support your parent and you as a family, to remain as independent and active as possible. In addition, your older relative’s GP and Community Healthcare team should be their first source of support and advice if they are concerned about coping with the practicalities of living with, or beyond a bowel cancer diagnosis or treatment, once you have been discharged from hospital
The charity Beating Bowel Cancer provides clear information, support and guidance for anyone affected by bowel cancer.