Bowel cancer is the cancer of intestine and is also called as colorectal cancer. Cancer in the large intestine is called as colon cancer and cancer in rectum (end part of the colon) is rectal cancer. Bowel cancer develops from uncontrolled multiplication of the cells that cover the inner lining of the intestine. Often, the cancers of bowel develop from polyps, the small and non-cancerous growths of tissues.
Although bowel cancer affects people of all ages, it is common in people aged 60 years and above.
Certain factors are considered to increase the risk of developing bowel cancer include alcohol, smoking, high fat intake, family history of colon cancer, presence of polyps, and increased age (>60 years).
In the early stages, people with bowel cancer often may not experience pain. However the following symptoms may indicate colon cancer:
- Blood in stools
- Change in the bowel habits, such as thin stools, diarrhoea, and constipation
- Unexplained weight loss
- Abdominal pain
Bowel cancer is diagnosed by symptoms, medical history and other diagnostic procedures. These procedures include:
- Colonoscopy- It is a procedure done for inspecting the inside of the entire colon. It is performed using an instrument called colonoscope, a flexible tube with a tiny camera.
- Sigmoidoscopy- It is a test performed for the examination of the inside of the large bowel and the rectum.
- Barium enema- In this procedure barium containing fluid is administered into the bowel through rectum. X-ray images are then captured to view inside the bowel.
If the bowel cancer is confirmed, staging is performed to detect the size, location, and stage of the cancer. Staging is performed using ultrasonography or a computed tomography of the abdomen, chest X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of the bowel, and complete blood count. Faecal occult blood test- Faecal occult blood test (FOBT) is a test to determine small amounts of blood in the faeces. However this test does not diagnose colon cancer, hence need to be performed during colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy.
Treatments depend on the size, location, and stage of the cancer. Severity of the bowel cancer may range from stage 0 (early stage; restricted to particular area) to stage 4 (advanced stage; spread to other parts of the body). Bowel cancer may be treated using chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and/or surgery.
Chemotherapy and radiotherapy
Bowel cancer can be treated using anti-cancerous medications or radiation depending on the site and severity of cancer. These treatments can be used as alone or in addition to surgery to destroy the remaining cancer cells and to prevent from further spreading.
The most common treatment for bowel cancer is surgery. More often a colectomy is performed, to remove the cancer cells. It is the surgical resection of all or part of the large intestine. The surgery is also called large bowel resection. Colectomy is performed under general anaesthesia by open surgery method or by laparoscopic method. The procedure takes about 1 to 4 hours.
In this technique a single large incision of about 6 inches is made in the lower abdominal wall. The diseased part of the colon is removed and the healthy ends are sutured. If no healthy large intestine is left, an opening or a small incision called a stoma is created through the skin of the abdominal wall. The open end of the large intestine is stitched to the skin of the outer wall of the abdomen. Wastes will pass through the opening into a bag attached outside the body. This procedure is called colostomy.
It is a minimally invasive technique where several small incisions are made rather than one large incision. Three to five small incisions are made on the lower abdomen. A laparoscope, a telescopic video camera is used to see the inside of the abdomen, is inserted through an incision. Small surgical instruments are passed through other 2 incisions and colon is removed through another incision. Gas is filled in the lower abdomen and expanded for easy access. Diseased part of the colon is extracted. The healthy ends are reattached and all the incisions are closed with the sutures.
As with other surgeries, colectomy procedure is also associated with complications such as infections, bleeding, and damage to nearby organs.
High fibre diets and vitamins, avoiding smoking and alcohol, managing obesity and a healthy life style can lessen risk of bowel cancer.