Bowel cancer, or colorectal cancer, is a type of cancer that develops in the large bowel and rectum. It is the third most common type of cancer in the world. It usually begins as small, non-cancerous (benign) clumps of cells called adenomatous polyps which grow slowly over time and can become cancerous. The symptoms of bowel cancer include blood in the stools, a change in bowel habits such as constipation, unexplained weight loss, and feeling tired. Diagnosis is made through a physical exam, colonoscopy, and blood tests. Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy. Early detection and prompt treatment can greatly improve the prognosis of bowel cancer patients.
The most common symptoms of bowel cancer include:
- A persistent change in bowel habits
- Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool
- Abdominal pain, bloating, or a feeling of fullness
- Unexplained weight loss
- Weakness or tiredness
- A lump in the abdomen
The exact cause of bowel cancer is not known, but certain risk factors have been identified that are known to increase a person’s chance of developing the disease. These include age, family history, diets high in fat and red meat, smoking, alcohol consumption, certain genetic disorders, and inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
The primary risk factors associated with Bowel cancer include:
- Age: Bowel cancer risk increases with age, especially after the age of 50.
- Family history: Having a close relative with Bowel cancer or a related condition increases your risk.
- Genetics: People with certain gene mutations, such as those affecting the APC gene, may have a higher risk of developing Bowel cancer.
- Diet: Eating a diet rich in red and processed meats increases your risk.
- Obesity: Being overweight or obese increases your risk.
- Smoking: Smoking increases your risk.
- Alcohol: Drinking alcohol excessively increases your risk.
- Physical inactivity: Not participating in enough physical activity increases your risk.
Bowel cancer can be diagnosed using a variety of tests. These include Colonoscopy, which is the direct visual examination of the entire colon; Sigmoidoscopy, which looks at the rectum and lower part of the colon; and Barium enema, which is a series of x-ray pictures of the colon and rectum taken after a barium solution is swallowed. Blood tests may also be done to look for markers of cancer, such as CEA and CA 19.9. Other tests, such as a CT scan or MRI, may be used to detect the cancer and check for spread to nearby tissues and organs.
The subtypes of bowel cancer are classified based on the histological diagnosis. The most common type is adenocarcinoma, which arises from the cells lining the inner layer of the colon and rectum. Other types of bowel cancer include:
- Squamous cell carcinoma: This type of cancer originates from the thin flat cells that line the surface of the rectum.
- Adenocarcinoid: A rare type of cancer that arises from the cells that make the glands in the intestine.
- Neuroendocrine tumors: These tumors may originate from hormone-producing cells in the rectum and intestine.
- Sarcoma: This type of cancer develops in the soft tissues in the rectum, such as muscle, fat, and connective tissue.
- Lymphoma: A type of cancer which originates in the immune system and affects the lymph glands in the intestine.
- Leiomyosarcoma: A type of cancer that develops in the muscle layers of the intestine.
The subtypes of bowel cancer are classified further based on their grade, which refers to the degree of abnormality present in the cells. Low grade cancers are slow growing, while high grade cancers are more aggressive.
The treatment for bowel cancer will depend on the stage of the cancer and individual factors of the patient, as well as their wishes. Generally, the treatment options for bowel cancer include surgery, chemotherapy, targeted therapies, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy.
Surgery is the most common treatment option and may be used to remove a tumor or entire sections of the intestine.
Chemotherapy involves taking oral or intravenous medications to shrink the tumor or kill the cancer cells.
Targeted therapies are medications that target certain molecules or pathways in the body known to be involved in the growth and spread of cancer.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to shrink the tumor or kill cancer cells.
Finally, immunotherapy is a form of treatment that uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer by boosting the immune system’s response to the tumor.
To reduce the risk of bowel cancer, it is important to stay active and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Eating a balanced diet high in fiber, vegetables, and fruits while limiting processed and red meats can help reduce the risk. Additionally, avoiding smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, and getting regular screenings can help detect any abnormalities at an early stage. It is also important to stay up-to-date on family history and any hereditary risk factors.
There has been research that suggests that there are gender-specific differences in the presentation and management of Bowel cancer. Studies have found that men are more likely to present with advanced stage Bowel cancer and are likely to die from it than women. This is likely due to the fact that men are more likely to be diagnosed with Bowel cancer at an older age and they are more likely to be diagnosed with aggressive forms of the disease. Studies have also found that women with Bowel cancer tend to have better outcomes than men, with lower mortality rates and better survival rates. Furthermore, women are more likely to receive recommended measures for the management of Bowel cancer, such as colonoscopy and other treatments.
Nutrition plays an important role in the management of bowel cancer. Eating a nutritious diet before, during and after treatment can help support a successful outcome. Nutrients such as fiber, calcium, vitamins, and minerals are especially important for people with bowel cancer. Eating a diet that is high in fiber and plant-based food can help lower the risk of recurrence and reduce symptoms. Additionally, research suggests that antioxidants, like vitamins A and C, selenium, and omega-3 fatty acids, may reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer and improve survival rates. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and limiting processed foods, red and processed meats, sugar, and saturated fats can also help reduce the risk of developing bowel cancer. In addition to diet, staying active, keeping stress levels low, drinking plenty of water, avoiding alcohol and tobacco, and getting regular cancer screenings can all help manage bowel cancer.
Physical activity can help to reduce the risk of developing many cancers, including bowel cancer. Regular activity can help to regulate hormones and make it easier for your body to digest and process food, two important benefits that can help to prevent the development of cancer. Exercise also raises your metabolism and helps to regulate your blood sugar, which can also prevent the development of cancer in the colon and rectum. Finally, physical activity can help to maintain a healthy weight, which reduces the risk of many types of cancer, including bowel cancer.