Bowel cancer

The term colorectal carcinoma refers to bowel cancer of the colon and the rectum. Bowel cancer is the third most common type of cancer and primarily affects people aged 50 and over. Altered bowel movements and blood in the stool are the most common symptoms of bowel cancer. It is treated with surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Colon cancer is one of the most common types of cancer. The small intestine is less frequently affected by the disease, which is why the term bowel cancer is generally understood to mean colon cancer. The number of women and men diagnosed with bowel cancer is more or less the same. The risk of developing the disease increases significantly from the age of 50 onwards. Bowel cancer almost always presents as small polyps, known as colorectal polyps. Preventative examinations are therefore incredibly important for people who face an increased risk. Such check-ups make it possible to identify and remove these polyps at an early stage. The following risk factors make a person more likely to develop bowel cancer:

  • other family members who have suffered from bowel cancer
  • polyps in the colon
  • chronic inflammatory bowel diseases (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis)
  • excess body weight
  • very little exercise

For a long time, bowel cancer exhibits very few symptoms or no symptoms at all. Important signs that could indicate bowel cancer include altered bowel movements, a need to defecate that does not result in a bowel movement, fluctuations between diarrhoea and constipation, as well as blood in the stool. More general symptoms such as weight loss and tiredness can also point to bowel cancer. Bowel cancer very rarely causes stomach pains.

A colonoscopy is carried out to diagnose the disease. Tissue samples can be taken from any areas that exhibit suspicious changes, so it is possible to make a definitive cancer diagnosis. Smaller colorectal polyps can be removed during the colonoscopy.

Check-ups involving a colonoscopy or stool examination (blood) are important for the early detection of the disease.

The choice of treatment depends on how far the cancer has progressed. If detected early, bowel cancer can be effectively treated by surgically removing the tumour. However, this is only the case if the tumour has not yet grown into the colon and has not yet formed any other tumours (metastases).  In its advanced state, bowel cancer is treated with surgery combined with radiotherapy or chemotherapy. You can find out more about the surgical treatment options in the colonic surgery section.