What is it?
Bowel cancer simply means cancer of the colon and rectum, the two parts of the intestines where food remnants are turned into solid waste and stored until passed out as faeces. The cells lining the intestines continuously wear off and get replaced. When these cells begin to grow out of control, a cancer results. With time, some of these cancerous cells may break off from the tumour and spread to other parts of the body and continue to grow there, causing more damage.
What are the symptoms?
Bowel cancer in the early stages may go unnoticed for a long time as it causes no symptoms initially. At this time, the cancer may be picked up only during routine screening test or incidentally while investigating other conditions.
Common symptoms include loss of appetite and weight, dizziness and weakness, abdominal discomfort and the feeling of a mass in the abdomen. Changes in bowel habit (alternating constipation and diarrhoea) may occur especially if the tumour is on the left side. Tumours on the right side usually causes fewer symptoms. You may also bleed from your rectum or visible blood in your stools, or get serious pain in your abdomen.
If your doctor suspects bowel cancer, you’ll need some investigations. One of them involves passing a special telescope through your anus into your rectum and colon in order to look for any unusual thing and also take tissue samples (biopsies) to look at more closely if need be. Other relevant investigations will be determined by the doctor.
These investigations can confirm the presence (and stage) or absence of a cancer.
The treatment for bowel cancer is mainly surgery. Additional treatment in the form drugs (chemotherapy) and irradiation (radiotherapy) may be given depending of the stage of the disease. Early stage disease may benefit from surgery alone. But advanced disease will usually require other treatments in addition.
Surgery involves taking out variable lengths of the bowel depending on the site and length of bowel involved. The surgeon will determine how much to take out as he operates.
What will happen to me?
Generally, bowel cancer is a serious but curable condition with proper surgery and additional therapy. However, survival is dependent on a number of factors like time of presentation, type, site and size of tumour, other organs involved, age of the individual and any associated disease.
Regular periodic check-ups are crucial after being treated for bowel cancer. This enables the cancer to be detected on time if it comes back. However, if you get worried by any symptoms, report to your doctor immediately, even before your next check-up.