Every thirty minutes in the UK, somebody dies of bowel cancer; it is the second highest cause of cancer death in the UK amongst both men and women. This figure may sound shocking if you have received a diagnosis of bowel cancer, but patients have a high chance of survival if it is caught early enough. Sadly, it is believed that less than 10% of people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in these early stages, and too few people who begin a screening go on to complete the process.
What is the Bowel?
The bowel is one of the most important parts of our digestive system. Once food enters the stomach, it then passes into the small intestine to begin the final stages of digestion where nutrients are converted to energy. The waste material passes through the small bowel / intestine and into the large bowel and stored in the rectum until we go to the toilet. The bowel is a place where cancer will develop in 1 / 20 of us every year.
What is Bowel Cancer?
There are many different types of the disease but generally, cancer begins when the cells of the body start to attack the host and turns good cells into cancer cells. These bad cells multiply and can spread to other parts of the body. Bowel cancer is the form that starts in the large bowel (large intestine). It can also start in the small intestine, but this is much less common. Variations on bowel cancer also include rectal and colon cancer; the colon is the first section of the large bowel and the rectum is the final section.
Bowel cancer begins in the lining, which is the innermost wall of the bowel, and starts its life as a polyp. These polyps should be treated and not ignored; if they are left, they will grow through the lining of the bowel and can eventually turn cancerous. If this happens, organs that are near the bowels will become infected.
How Does Bowel Cancer Spread?
The major problem with bowel cancer is that it spreads directly to vital organs. Once the polyp breaks through the wall lining, it can infect the bladder, the womb in women and the prostate in men. It can also infect the lymphatic system; lymph nodes make up an important part of the immune system and are one of the first areas to be infected by cancer that spreads from the bowel. The blood stream is also under threat and eventually, so is the liver and other organs concerned with movement of blood around the body. It is believed that full-blown bowel cancer can take anything between 5 and 10 years to develop.
Bowel Cancer Awareness Month 2016
As mentioned above, too few patients are having their bowel cancer diagnosed early enough. This year, Bowel Cancer UK will focus on an important issue to helping improve diagnosis – screening. Only one third of people who go in for a screening will end up completing the process. Education about the importance of screening is key to reducing the number of deaths from bowel cancer every year. Screening helps medical professional discover the polyps that will develop into bowel cancer before it becomes problematic. It is most common in the over 50s and that is why health authorities and cancer charities want people in this age group to attend screenings every two years. In Scotland, the age range is 50+.
What can you do to help? Cancer charities always need your help and those immediately concerned with bowel cancer are encouraging people to order packs from their websites and speak at community groups and workplaces. Furthermore, they are asking people to do all the normal things they might do for fundraising – bake cakes, have a raffle, enter a run or bike ride, a coffee morning – but to raise money specifically for bowel cancer during the month of April.