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Spotting cancer early saves lives

Your questions answered

Who’s most at risk of bowel cancer?

The exact cause of bowel cancer is still unknown. However, research has shown several factors may make you more likely to develop it. These include:

  • Age bowel cancer is more common in older people
  • Family history of bowel cancer
  • Having non-cancerous polyps (growths) in the bowel
  • Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis (chronic diseases of the bowel) – having either of these diseases for a long time increases risk of bowel cancer
  • Unhealthy lifestyle including drinking alcohol, smoking, poor diet (e.g. high red and processed meat and not enough vegetables and other food high in fibre) and obesity.

How can I prevent bowel cancer?

Some ways to lower your risk of developing bowel cancer include:

  • Stopping smoking
  • Be more active and avoid reaching an unhealthy weight
  • Cut down on alcohol
  • Eat well – avoid eating too much red meat and processed meat. The recommended amount by the Department of Health is 70g per day. Eat plenty of foods high in fibre including fruit and vegetables and food containing plenty of whole grains e.g. oats.

What will happen when I go and see my GP?

It is important to realise that you are not wasting anyone's time by getting your symptoms checked and it is better to visit your GP with any concerns you may have.

At your appointment, your GP will ask you about your symptoms so it might be a good idea to write everything down beforehand so you don’t forget anything. Your GP may feel your stomach area (abdomen) to see if there are any lumps or tender areas. They may carry out a rectal examination. This involves putting a gloved finger inside your bottom (rectum). It’s a quick and painless procedure that GPs are used to doing. The examination usually takes one to five minutes, depending on whether your GP finds anything unusual. You may be referred to a hospital or specialist clinic if further examinations and tests are needed.

What are the treatments for bowel cancer?

Treatment for bowel cancer can include:

  • Surgery – this is where the cancerous part of the bowel is removed. It is the most effective way of treating bowel cancer.
  • Chemotherapy – this is where medication is used to kill the cancer cells.
  • Radiotherapy – this is where radiation (a bit like an x-ray) is used to kill cancer cells.