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Both rectal and colon cancer are types of bowel cancer. Bowel cancer begins in the large bowel and depending where it starts, it will be categorised as colon cancer or rectal cancer. The colon is the large intestine. The rectum is the end of the large intestine that joins onto the anus.
The symptoms of rectal and colon cancer are the same:
- Blood in your poo that occurs persistently and for no obvious reason.
- Persistent change in your bowel habits – normally going for a poo more frequently and having looser poo.
- Persistent lower abdominal pain, bloating or discomfort after eating. This may be accompanied by unintentional weight loss.
The symptoms are not always obvious and do not necessarily cause you to feel unwell. However they are persistent so if you have experienced problems for more than a few weeks it is a good idea to visit your doctor.
Roughly nine out of 10 cases of bowel cancer occur in people over the age of 60. Risk factors include:
- Being overweight or obese.
- Eating a diet low in fibre and high in red or processed meats.
- A lack of exercise
- Alcohol and smoking
- A close relative who developed bowel cancer under the age of 50.
If you have colon or rectal cancer you are likely to be offered a mix of surgical and non-surgical treatment. In the case of advanced or recurrent cancer, you will be given intensive treatment, as detailed below.
If you are found to have polyps these will be completely removed during a colonoscopy and sent to the laboratory. If they are found to be cancerous, you will be closely monitored to ensure that the cancer does not return.
In the case of rectal cancer you may be offered pre-operative chemotherapy and radiotherapy followed by surgery to remove the cancer. If you are unsuitable for surgery you may be offered chemotherapy.
In the case of colon cancer you may be offered:
- Keyhole surgery.
- Single incision bowel removal.
If you have rectal cancer you may be offered:
- Keyhole surgery to remove the rectum
- Transanal endoscopic microsurgery
- Transanal minimally invasive surgery
If you have advanced or recurrent cancer (cancer that keeps coming back) you will be offered a combination of surgical and non-surgical treatment, including:
- Pelvic exenteration.
- Intra operative radiotherapy.
- Heated Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy (HIPEC).
There are steps that you can take to reduce your risk of developing colon and rectal cancer but you cannot alleviate it completely. You may want to consider: reducing your consumption of red and processed meat, eating more fruit and vegetables, reducing your alcohol intake, taking regular exercise and losing weight if you are obese.
No. Blood in your poo can be caused by other conditions such as haemorrhoids and diverticular disease but it is important to get it checked out as blood in your poo can be an indicator of bowel cancer
It is important to catch bowel cancer as early as possible to stand the best chance of successful treatment. Bowel cancer affects around 41,000 people in the UK every year. It can be successfully treated if identified before it has had a chance to spread. If polyps are found in the bowel early enough they can be removed even before they become cancerous.
The majority of colon and rectal cancers occur in people with no family history of the disease. However if you have a close family member who developed the condition before the age of 60, you will be at increased risk and may be offered additional screening.
The sooner you seek help, the sooner your chances of returning to health and getting your life back on track.
There really is nothing to feel embarrassed about and everything to be gained by coming to talk to a specialist.