The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones against bowel cancer are to be aware of the symptoms. In the early stages, there may be no obvious signs or symptoms to bowel cancer but in most cases, the following will be a good indicator:
- Blood in the stools and/or bleeding from the rectum
- A change in bowel habit lasting longer than 6 weeks (e.g. loose stools, diarrhoea or constipation)
- Stomach pain (often severe)
- Lumps or a mass in the abdomen
- Weight loss
- Weakness and tiredness (symptoms of anaemia)
If you are experiencing a number of these it is a good idea to get checked out by your doctor immediately.
Inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis can also mimic all the symptoms of bowel cancer listed above.
It is important to be checked by your doctor to eliminate bowel cancer as a possible cause and get the correct treatment you need.
Some of the above symptoms such as lumps or mass in the abdomen, weight loss and change in bowel habits can also be related to ovarian cancer. If your doctor has ruled out bowel cancer, please test for ovarian too. For more information about ovarian cancer click here.
Staging of Bowel Cancer
When bowel cancer is diagnosed, additional tests are performed to determine the extent of the disease, which is a process called staging.
The staging for colorectal cancer is as follows:
Stage I (least advanced cancer):
Cancer involving only the innermost layers of the colon or rectum wall.
The likelihood of cure for stage I cancer is over 90%, emphasising the importance of early detection of cancer.
Cancer exhibiting greater growth and extension of tumour through the wall of the colon or rectum into adjacent structures.
Cancer involving the spread of cancer to local lymph nodes (metastasis).
Stage IV (most advanced cancer):
Cancer has spread to distant organs, usually the liver and lungs, or lymph nodes far from the original tumour.