Bowel cancer

Learn more about Bowel cancer

Bowel cancer

No one wants to hear the “c” word. But in Australia, bowel cancer is common. 1 in 13 people in Australia will develop bowel cancer. But the good news? Most of it is treatable if detected early. 

What is bowel cancer?

A bowel cancer is an uncontrolled growth of cells in the bowel. Bowel cancers arise from polyps, hence the focus on removing polyps at colonoscopy. Left untreated, polyps can continue to grow and potentially undergo malignant change –  becoming a cancer. 

As a bowel cancer enlarges, it may grow into or through the bowel wall. It may develop the capacity to spread to lymph nodes, or beyond – to the liver, lungs or abdominal cavity. 

Large polyps and even bowel cancer may not cause any symptoms at all, particularly early in the disease. This makes it vital that everyone participates in the Bowel Cancer screening program, and/or attends for a colonoscopy. 

Symptoms to look out for include rectal bleeding or mucous, a change in your bowel habits, a change in your poo, abdominal pain or bloating, weight loss, energy loss or loss of appetite. 

The first step in dealing with a bowel cancer diagnosis is having it explained in simple terms, and the steps that Dr Morris will guide you through to gather more information and then plan a treatment. 

The treatment for bowel cancer is usually surgical, with chemotherapy considered after surgery for higher risk cancers. 

Rectal cancer may be treated by radiotherapy, surgery or chemotherapy, or a combination of these. The order of treatments may vary depending on the characteristics of the tumour, and the patient. 

Bowel cancer can be prevented, or treated early, by screening or the prompt investigation of symptoms. If you have any symptoms of concern, remember that we do this for a living – come and seek an opinion.


Bowel Cancer Treatment

The first step in treating bowel cancer is gathering more information. A colonoscopy is performed to take a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis, and exclude the possibility of a second tumour or significant polyps.  

A CT scan looks for any sign of spread outside the bowel – particularly in the liver or lungs.

In rectal cancer, an MRI gives more accurate information about the cancer location and size in the pelvis. 

An operation usually involves removing the segment of rectum or colon containing the cancer. The draining lymph nodes are removed with the bowel at the same time. This is done with either an open, laparoscopic or robotic operation, and Dr Morris will help guide you through the benefits and drawbacks of the proposed approach. 

Generally speaking, a stoma (or ‘colostomy bag’)is usually avoidable but may be required in some rectal cancers or as a temporary safety valve after particular operations to allow things to heal. .

Chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy needs to be decided on a case by case basis, and your colorectal surgeon, Dr Morris will have this initial discussion with you.

Generally, for colon cancers, chemotherapy is suggested if there are positive lymph nodes. The treatment of rectal cancer is more complex and is usually discussed in a multi-disciplinary team meeting to achieve a consensus and expedite your care. 

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