Bowel cancer: the facts 

Bowel cancer is also known as colorectal cancer. It is a cancer of the large bowel or rectum. 

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK and the second biggest cancer killer.

Over 42,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK.Around 268,000 people living in the UK today have been diagnosed with bowel cancer.

Bowel cancer can affect anyone of any age. 

More than nine out of ten new cases (94%) are diagnosed in people over the age of 50, and nearly six out of ten cases (59%) are diagnosed in people aged 70 or over. However, more than 2,500 new cases are diagnosed each year in people under the age of 50.

1 in 15 men and 1 in 18 women will be diagnosed with bowel cancer during their lifetime.

Bowel cancer is treatable and curable especially if diagnosed early. Nearly everyone survives bowel cancer if diagnosed at the earliest stage. However this drops significantly as the disease develops. Early diagnosis really does save lives 

More than 16,000 people die from bowel cancer in the UK every year. It is the second biggest cancer killer in the UK. But the number of people dying of bowel cancer has been falling since the 1970s. This may be due to earlier diagnosis and better treatment. 


  • Bleeding from the back passage and/or blood in your stool
  • A persistent and unexplained change in bowel habit 
  • A feeling of needing to pass stool, even after opening your bowels. 
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason
  • A pain or lump in your abdomen. 

Most people with these symptoms actually do not have bowel cancer, but if you are concerned, please speak to your GP. 


  • Being aged over 50
  • A strong family history of bowel cancer. All family members should tell their GP if they have: one first-degree relative (parent, brother, sister or child) diagnosed with bowel cancer before the age of 50, or two or more first-degree relatives diagnosed with bowel cancer at any age, or one or more relatives with a known genetic (inherited) condition linked to bowel cancer
  • A history of non-cancerous growths (polyps) in your bowel
  • Longstanding inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Lifestyle factors:
    • Avoiding processed meat and limiting red meat consumption
    • Eating plenty of fibre from wholegrains, pulses, veg and fruit. 
    • Maintaining a healthy body weight
    • Increasing physical activity
    • Reducing alcohol consumption: It is estimated that about 6 out of 100 bowel cancers (6%) in the UK are linked to alcohol
    • Smoking: An estimated 7% of bowel cancer cases in the UK are linked to tobacco smoking


Screening is a way of testing healthy people to see if they show early signs of cancer, when there is a good chance of successful treatment. If bowel cancer is diagnosed at the earliest stage, more than nine in ten people will be successfully treated. Screening can also find non-cancerous growths (polyps) in the bowel that may develop into cancer in the future. Removing these polyps can reduce your risk of getting bowel cancer. 

At the London General Practice we are able to guide our patients to access a number of screening techniques designed to detect bowel cancers early.  

  • Faecal immunochemical test (FIT) or Faecal occult blood test (FOBT). Both of these tests looks for tiny traces of blood in a stool sample. 
  • Ct Colonoscopy, or virtual colonoscopy . This is when your bowel is imaged using a CT scanner after a contrast agent is placed in the bowel. 
  • Bowel scope screening. This test involves an endoscopist using a flexible tube called a colonoscope with a light and a camera at one end to examine the bowel and take samples where needed. 


Bowel cancer when detected early is curable. The treatment schedule would depend on each individual case, but may comprise surgery with chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Even cases of advanced bowel cancer, where the cancer cells may have spread beyond the bowel, can be treated through a variety of novel techniques. 


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