Bowel cancer: diagnosis, symptoms and treatment

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK.

Find out more about the symptoms to look out for, diagnosis and treatment options available at Cromwell Hospital. 

About bowel cancer

Bowel cancer, or more specifically cancer of the large intestine or rectum (also known as colorectal cancer), develops from polyps - growths in your large intestine and rectum. However, not all polyps develop into cancer.

Bowel cancer is a fairly common cancer and the second biggest cancer killer. However, it can be treated successfully, especially if diagnosed early. 

Symptoms of bowel cancer

The main symptoms of bowel cancer are:

  • persistent blood in your stool
  • persistent mucus in your stool 
  • needing to go to the toilet more often and runny stools
  • lower abdominal pain, bloating or discomfort after eating
  • loss of appetite
  • unexpected weight loss

Most people with these symptoms do not have bowel cancer. Other health problems can cause similar symptoms. 

Who is at risk of getting bowel cancer?

There is no clear cause for bowel cancer, but there are some factors which might put you at higher risk:

  • aged over 50
  • family history of bowel cancer
  • history of non-cancerous growths (polyps) in your bowel
  • inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • type 2 diabetes
  • unhealthy lifestyle
  • obesity 
  • loss of appetite
  • unexpected weight loss 

How is bowel cancer diagnosed?

At Bupa Cromwell Hospital, we offer the following diagnostic options:

Your surgeon uses a small, thin tube with a camera to look inside your body. Samples (biopsies) can be removed from your bowel and sent to the lab for testing.

If your surgeon finds any polyps during the endoscopy, they will remove them to reduce risk of cancer developing. They will also look for other causes for your symptoms (haemorhoids, diverticulae, anal fissures). 

The most common types of endoscopy are:

Flexible Sigmoidoscopy: looks inside your rectum (back passage) and the lower part of the large bowel (sigmoid colon).
Colonoscopy: views your entire large bowel to look for polyps or a tumour. 

These scans can provide useful information for the presence of cancer and the spread to other organs. This can help your doctors decide on the most effective treatment for you. 

Bowel cancer treatment

This is where the cancerous section of the bowel is removed. Your surgeon may use open, keyhole or robotic surgery, depending on your specific situation.

We offer robotic surgery via the da Vinci X robot, which has been shown to reduce blood loss and enable a quicker recovery with less post-operative pain.

Radiotherapy and Chemotherapy destroy cancer cells in the body.

Radiotherapy does this by using high doses of radiation to kill off the cancerous tumours.

Chemotherapy involves the use of drugs specifically designed to kill cancer cells.

Targeted therapies are a group of medicines that make chemotherapy more effective by preventing the cancer from spreading. Targeted therapies are sometimes used alongside chemotherapy when the cancer has spread beyond the bowel.

The chance of a complete cure depends on how far bowel cancer has spread. Our consultants will talk to you about your options and provide a recommended, personalised treatment plan based on your individual situation. 

Why choose us for bowel cancer care?

Book an appointment today

Our opening hours are 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday, and 8am to 2pm Saturdays.

Please note - regrettably we are unable to answer specific medical questions or offer medical advice via internet, email or telephone.