is the second most common cause of cancer death in the UK. But
it is relatively simple to treat, especially if it is diagnosed
in the early stages. Here’s the low-down on how to protect
yourself and the action to take if you or one of your family are
diagnosed with bowel cancer/ receive a positive diagnosis
REDUCE YOUR RISK
There are lots of ways to reduce your risk of developing bowel
cancer: the right diet and keeping fit are most important.
A fibre-rich diet will speed the movement of waste through your
digestive system and prevent constipation. Anything that slows
down your digestive system and leaves waste in your colon for
longer than normal is a potential extra risk to your health.
Eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day
will speed up your digestive system and help the colon to empty
Drinking plenty of water – ideally two to three litres a day -
will also help this process by keeping motions soft. Try to cut
down on tea, coffee and cola, which contain caffeine – as they
encourage fluid to pass through the body as urine rather than
circulating in the colon.
Cutting down on fatty meat and dairy fats is also a good idea.
Even if you are fit and fat, you are still at increased risk of
bowel cancer. Reduce the amount of fried food and trim any
visible fat on meat and poultry. You should also try to reduce
the amount of processed food such as biscuits and cakes, which
have high levels of ‘hidden’ fat.
Try to include foods that protect against bowel cancer in your
diet: onions, garlic and leeks are all thought to protect the
gut against cancer - and there is also evidence that broccoli
and watercress may also provide protection.
Being fit is also important. Exercising your body keeps your
colon fit to cope with its daily work as well as keeping off fat
around the middle as we get older. About 30 minutes of moderate
daily exercise is recommended – and that includes brisk walking
or gardening as well as normal exercise.
As part of your healthy lifestyle, stop smoking and try to
reduce consumption of alcohol – beer and spirits in particular
raise your risk of getting bowel cancer. Keeping slim is also a
good idea: eat a big breakfast, a middle-sized lunch and a small
dinner with only fruit as snacks in between meals.
You are more at risk of getting bowel cancer if there is history
of the disease in the family particularly close relatives. If
you have Crohn’s disease or inflammatory bowel disease, you are
also at increased risk.
GET FAMILIAR WITH YOUR BOWEL PATTERN.
Bowel Cancer UK, advises people to check their motions
daily, looking in the toilet pan and use a torch if the
light is poor. Motions should be mid to dark brown in
bowel cancer can easily be confused with normal changes in
bowel pattern. Every day millions of people have bleeding
from the bottom or changes in bowel movements. Do consult
your GP if you are concerned about such symptoms.
bowel cancer is now available for people who are over 50 –
the age group that is most at risk of the disease.
IF YOU ARE
DIAGNOSED WITH BOWEL CANCER…
*Take time to read any written information you are given
*Write down questions you want to ask when you visit the
*Ask to talk to a Colorectal Specialist nurse
IF SOMEONE IN YOUR FAMILY IS diagnosed with bowel cancer
*Look after them well before and after treatment; they will need
extra support. Give them plenty of reassurance, they’ll almost
certainly need it.
*Be prepared to attend hospital appointments with a relative.
Being an extra pair of ears can be invaluable especially at
*Remember that most bowel cancer is NOT inherited and therefore
you are not necessarily at extra risk of getting the disease if
you are the child of a bowel cancer sufferer.
YOU ASK …..
Q. Two close relatives have had bowel cancer so I eat
lots of fruit and veg and wholegrain food. Does a healthy diet
cancel out an inherited risk of cancer?
A. A healthy diet including at least five portions of
fruit and veg will reduce but not eliminate completely the risk
of bowel cancer. If you have one parent or sibling who has had
bowel cancer under the age of 50 or two close relatives with
bowel cancer over the age of 50, talk to your doctor about
getting a screening test for bowel cancer yourself.
Q. I’ve had bad diarrhoea and I don't think it was food
poisoning. Should I be
getting it checked at the hospital?
A. Most diarrhoea settles if you stop eating for a day or
two and drink plenty of water containing sugar and salt. If you
feel unwell with diarrhoea you should consult your GP. If
diarrhoea lasts for more than six weeks with no obvious cause.
your GP will usually refer you to a specialist for further
Q. I'm having surgery to have a polyp removed from my
bowel following a
sigmoidoscopy. Does this mean I've got bowel cancer?
A. If a polyp removed from the bowel is bigger than 5mm
it will usually be sent to the lab for analysis. The majority of
polyps in the bowel are not cancers. Some of them (called
adenomas) carry a risk of turning into cancers if left in the
bowel for a period of years. If you have a polyp removed and are
told it was an adenoma, you should discuss with a specialist
whether you should have further colonoscopies in future to check
you have no other adenomas.
Q. My father has been told he needs more treatment
following surgery. Does
this mean the operation wasn't successful?
A. When someone has an operation for bowel cancer, the
cancer is almost always removed and sent to the lab for
analysis. This gives more information about the type of cancer
and its extent. If the analysis shows that the bowel cancer has
spread into lymph glands then the specialist will usually
discuss with the patient whether to have further treatment,
usually chemotherapy, to reduce the risk of the cancer coming
back in the future.
Bowel Cancer UK (
www.bowelcanceruk.org.uk ) or telephone advisory
service: 08708 50 60 50
Or phone Lynn’s Bowel Cancer Campaign 24-hour recorded symptoms
hotline: 0870 24 24 870.