Bowel cancer is the generic term for a cancer developing in the large bowel, which consists of the colon and rectum. Bowel cancer can therefore be further classified as colon cancer or rectal cancer.
Function of the large bowel
The body’s digestive system consists of the oesophagus, stomach, duodenum, small bowel and large bowel. The first six feet of the large bowel is known as the colon and the last six inches is the rectum, which connects to the anal canal. The main function of the colon is to absorb water from bowel contents to form a solid motion/stool. The rectum acts as a storage reservoir for formed stools to be expelled as a bowel motion.
Cancer develops when the cells lining the inside surface of the bowel turn cancerous (also known as malignant cells). Cancer arising from the colon or the rectum is also known as bowel cancer or colorectal cancer.
What causes bowel cancer?
Bowel cancer often develops from a pre-cancerous growth, known as a polyp. Polyps are usually non-cancerous but if untreated, some can develop into cancer by growing in size and penetrating into the bowel wall. The exact causes of bowel cancer are not known, however some risk factors have been recognised to increase the risk of developing this disease:
- Increasing age (majority of cases are over 50 years)
- A diet high in fat, red or processed meat and low in fruit and vegetables
- An inactive lifestyle and being overweight
- Family history of bowel, breast or ovarian cancers consisting of a first degree relative (such as parent, sibling or child who has developed polyps, colon or rectal cancer). If this is the case regular bowel cancer screening should be discussed and considered. Family history screening is the most effective is offered by the Birmingham Bowel Clinic.
- A previous diagnosis of ovarian cancer or breast cancer or polyps in the colon or rectum
- A previous diagnosis of Inflammatory Bowel Disease such as Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s disease .
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David Lyne. September 2011