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Bowel cancer (colon and rectal cancer)

2-minute read

Bowel cancer is a general term for cancer that begins in the large bowel. Depending on where the cancer starts, it is sometimes called 'colon cancer', 'rectal cancer' or 'colorectal cancer'.

Symptoms of bowel cancer include blood in your stools (poo), an unexplained change in your bowel habits, such as prolonged diarrhoea or constipation, and unexplained weight loss.

Most bowel cancers develop from tiny growths inside the colon or rectum called 'polyps', which look like small spots on the bowel lining or like cherries on stalks. Not all polyps become cancerous. If polyps are removed, the risk of bowel cancer is significantly reduced.

Bowel cancer can be treated using a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and, in some cases, biological therapy. As with most types of cancer, the chance of a complete cure depends on how far the cancer has advanced by the time it is diagnosed.

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) provides free bowel screening to people aged 50 to 74. You need to be screened every two years. More information can be found on the NBCSP website or by ringing their Information Line on 1800 118 868

Personal story: bowel cancer

Being diagnosed with bowel cancer can be both emotionally and practically challenging. Listening to others who have experienced similar situations is often re-assuring and can be helpful for you, your loved ones or when preparing questions for your doctor or a specialist.

Watch this video about a patient's experience after being diagnosed with bowel cancer.

Read the related video transcript >

More information about this video >

Video Copyright: ©2013 University of Oxford. Used under licence from DIPEx. All rights reserved.

Last reviewed: May 2018

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