Bowel cancer: Dr Philippa Kaye lists the symptoms
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Bowel cancer – also known as colorectal cancer – develops inside the large bowel, made up of the colon and rectum. It is hard to catch out in the initial stages due to a lack of symptoms, but time is of the essence when treating the disease. According to health bodies, rectal bleeding may be the most common symptom among patients.
Bowel cancer is the result of cells going rogue in the bowel and growing into malignant tumours.
The disease is prevalent because the colon and rectum are two parts of the large intestine where it is common for cancer to occur, hence why it is often characterised by hematochezia.
Hematochezia is defined by medical publisher Karger as “frank bleeding per rectum”, which is an indication of bleeding somewhere in the digestive tract.
The body continues: “It is the most common presentation of colorectal cancer and is encountered in 25.5 – 42.3 percent of the patients.”
Tumours are vulnerable to bleeding because they have their own intricate network of blood vessels.
When bleeding occurs internally it is often accompanied by other telltale signs like fatigue or weakness, which are common signs of many cancers.
The American Cancer Society says: “Colorectal cancers can often bleed into the digestive tract.
“Sometimes the blood can be seen in the stool or make it look darker, but often the stool looks normal.”
The health body adds that “over time, the blood loss can build up and lead to low red blood cell counts (anaemia)”.
In fact, Sometimes the first sign of colorectal cancer is a blood test showing a low red blood cell count.
If cancer has spread to neighbouring tissue in the liver, it may produce other warning signs such as jaundice.
In an early report published in the British Journal of General Practice, researchers wrote: “Rectal bleeding is common in the community and may be an early symptom of bowel cancer.
“This study shows that each year there are approximately 15 consultations for rectal bleeding in primary care per 1000 patients over the age of 34 years.
“The most useful factors in identifying higher risk groups were rectal bleeding in combination with a change in a bowel habit to loose stool and an increased frequency of defecation, bleeding with perianal symptoms and age over 60 years.”
How to prevent colorectal cancer
There is no certain way to prevent cancer, but the most effective way to lower the risk is to get screened routinely.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests starting screenings at the age of 45, as this is when precancerous polyps may grow in the rectum.
Polyps can be present for years before an invasive malignancy develops, and they may not cause symptoms.
The CDC notes: “Colorectal cancer screening can find precancerous polyps so they can be removed before they turn into cancer. In this way, colorectal cancer is prevented.”
There is some evidence to suggest that people may be able to lower their risk of colorectal cancer by physical activity and adhering to a healthy diet.
Medical experts recommend a diet low in animal fats and high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, which protect against other chronic diseases.
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