Bowel Cancer

About the condition

Bowel cancer occurs when the genetic material of cells in the bowels become damaged or changed, producing mutations that affect normal cell growth and division. The abnormal cells then replicate, causing cancer. Also known as ‘colorectal cancer’, or ‘lower gastrointestinal cancer’, bowel cancer is not one single illness but includes large bowel cancer (colon cancer) and cancer of the back passage (rectal cancer or cancer of the rectum).

Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer among men in the UK and the second most common cancer in women in the UK. Every year, around 40,000 new cases are diagnosed.

As with most cancers, the precise causes of bowel cancer are unknown, although there are a variety of risk factors for the condition. These include age, as almost 90% of bowel cancer patients in the UK are over 60, having a family history of bowel cancer, smoking and having a diet that is high in red and processed meat.


The early symptoms for bowel cancer include:

  • Bleeding from the back passage or blood in your poo
  • Diarrhoea or looser stools lasting longer than 6 weeks
  • Noticing a lump in your back passage or abdomen
  • A feeling of needing to strain in your back passage
  • Weight loss
  • A pain in your abdomen or back passage
  • Feeling tired and breathless.

Some people find it embarrassing to talk about these sorts of symptoms, but if any of the above apply to you, or if you have any concerns about similar symptoms, it is essential that you see your doctor at once, as your chances of recovery are much higher if your cancer is diagnosed early. Alternatively you can book an appointment with one of our specialists by completing this form online or by calling 020 8247 3351.


If you’re referred to CCL for diagnosis, your consultant or oncologist will advise you on which tests are relevant to your individual symptoms. Diagnosing bowel cancer involves a range of examinations and tests. These include:

  • A rectal examination
  • Blood tests to check for anaemia and abnormal kidney function
  • Sigmoidoscopy: where a very thin, flexible tube attached to a camera is inserted into your rectum to examine your bowel
  • Protoscopy: an examination of the rectum using a special plastic or metal scope
  • Colonoscopy: a tube is used to examine your entire bowel
  • A Barium Enema, which is a special x-ray of the large intestine
  • A histology, where a very fine needle is used to take sample cells from the bowel


At CCL, patients with bowel cancer are treated by a specialist multidisciplinary team. This team works together to create a treatment plan to suit the individual needs of the patient.

In 80% of cases, surgery is the main treatment for bowel cancer. Treatment varies depending on whether the cancer is in the colon or the rectum.

Following surgery, a combination of other treatments are usually given to improve the patient’s outlook. These include:

  • Radiotherapy, where high-energy rays are used to destroy the cancer cells
  • Chemotherapy, where chemical agents are used to destroy and prevent cancer cells from spreading
  • Biotherapy, which is the use of newer and more targeted therapies to assist the body in fighting the disease.

Support Services

At CCL we provide support that caters to both the physical and emotional needs of the patient, before, during and after treatment.

Surgery for bowel cancer may cause scarring, especially if you need to have a colostomy or ileostomy (a surgical opening bringing the end of your small intestine out onto the surface of the skin, making it easier to collect waste). Your consultant and our occupational therapist can help you cope with these symptoms, and will conduct follow-up appointments to help you manage.

We offer a wide range of services for patients, as well as their loved ones, designed to make a very difficult time as easy as possible, and to give our patients the best treatment and support possible. Our support services include counselling, group sessions and much more. You can find the full range of our support services here.

Book now

If you have any questions about cancer or would like to book an appointment with one of our specialists, complete this form online or call 020 8247 3351.


Cancer Centre London

Parkside Hospital

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