Bowel Cancer: spot the symptoms
People living in Cork, Leitrim and Louth found out from the Irish Cancer Society today that they have the highest rates of bowel cancer in the country.
Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in Ireland and as Bowel Cancer Awareness month starts, many of us need to make lifestyle changes to reduce our risk of getting cancer.
More than 2,000 Irish people each year develop cancer of the colon. The cause of cancer of the large bowel in most people is still unknown, but research is going on all the time to try and find the cause. Like most types of cancer, bowel cancer is more common in older people. It is unusual for people under the age of fifty to get the disease.
So what is bowel cancer? Most bowel cancers start as benign innocent growths – called polyps – on the wall of the bowel. Polyps are like small spots or cherries on stalks and most do not produce symptoms. Polyps are common as we get older and most polyps are not pre-cancerous. One type of polyp called an adenoma can, however, become cancerous (malignant).
If left undetected the cancer cells will multiply to form a tumour in the bowel, causing pain, bleeding and other symptoms. If untreated, the tumour can grow into the wall of the bowel or back passage. Once cancer cells are in the wall, they can travel into the bloodstream or lymph nodes; from here the cancer cells can travel to other parts of the body. For bowel cancer, the most common places for bowel cancer cells to spread to are the liver and the lungs. The process of spread is called metastasis.
But here is hope: if treated early there is a very good chance of recovery. The only problem is that only 9% of patients are diagnosed at the early stage.
What are the symptoms?
You might get some of these symptoms, although it’s worth remembering that you might experience one, some, all or no symptoms at all. Remember most symptoms will not be bowel cancer.
- Blood in your poo or bleeding from the back passage
- A lasting change (more than a month) in your normal bowel motion, such as diarrhoea or constipation
- Feeling that you have not emptied your bowel fully after a motion
- Pain or discomfort in your abdomen (tummy) or back passage
- Trapped wind or fullness in your tummy
- Weight loss for no reason
- Ongoing general tiredness or weakness
There are steps you can take to reduce your risk of bowel cancer:
- Have a healthy diet. Limit the amount of red and processed meat that you eat
- Avoid being overweight or obese and maintain a healthy body weight
- Increase the amount of fibre you eat, including at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables each day
- Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day
- Don’t smoke
- Limit the amount of alcohol you drink. The risk of bowel cancer increases by 8% for every two units of alcohol consumed a day
- Be aware of your family history. If a member of your family has or had bowel cancer speak to your doctor about the risk and the need for screening.
The National Bowel Screening Programme is offering free screening to men and women aged 60 to 69 years and living in Ireland, you can ring BowelScreen on Freephone 1800 45 45 55 to check your details are on the register or visit the website www.bowelscreen.ie
If you are concerned about cancer you can call the Irish Cancer society on 1800 200 700 to talk to a specialist cancer nurse. You can visit www.cancer.ie for further information.