Detecting Bowel Cancer
Bowel cancer, also called colorectal cancer can involve the colon or rectum, the last parts of the digestive tract. It is an uncontrolled multiplication of cells in the inner lining of the bowel. Bowel cancer often develop from polyps, which are small abnormal growths in the walls of the colon. It is the second most common form of cancer and usually occurs in people over the age of 50.
You may have an increased likelihood of developing bowel cancer if you have a history of colon or rectal polyps, a previous history of bowel cancer, a family history of bowel cancer, chronic inflammatory bowel disease and increased levels of insulin from poorly controlled diabetes.
Bowel cancer may be associated with:
- Bloody stools
- A change in the bowel habits such as diarrhoea, constipation or narrow stools
- Unexplained weight loss
- Abdominal pain
You may even develop bowel cancer without symptoms. Having these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have bowel cancer, but you should have them evaluated by a doctor.
For those above 50 who do not have symptoms of bowel cancer, a simple test called a faecal occult blood test (FOBT) is recommended once every 2 years. The test identifies hidden traces of blood within the stools and can help in the early detection of bowel cancer. A positive test would entail further investigation.
To diagnose bowel cancer your doctor will review your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical examination.
Certain diagnostic procedures may be carried out such as:
- Colonoscopy- A procedure done to look inside the entire colon. It is performed using an instrument called a colonoscope, a flexible tube with a tiny camera attached to one end which is connected to a large screen for viewing the internal structures.
- Sigmoidoscopy- A procedure using an instrument called a sigmoidoscope to examine the terminal parts of the colon and the rectum.
- Barium enema- During this procedure barium fluid is administered into the bowel through the rectum. X-ray images are then captured to view inside the bowel.
If colon cancer is confirmed, staging is performed to determine the size, location, and stage of the cancer. Staging may be performed using ultrasonography or computed tomography (CT) scan of the abdomen, chest X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of the bowel, and complete blood count.
Treatment would depend on the size, location, and stage of the cancer.
You can reduce your risk of bowel cancer and protect yourself from this condition by eating a well-balanced diet, avoiding burnt or charred meat, limiting red meat, getting 30-60 minutes of exercise a day, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol, avoiding smoking and periodically screening for bowel cancer after the age of 50.