Bowel cancer affects over 20,000 people per year in the UK. The majority of patients are over 50, but 10% are under the age of 50 - some even in their late teens and early twenties. In many cases, bowel cancer occurs without any obvious cause, but the following factors may be implicated: family history; ulcerative colitis; diet; obesity.
Bowel cancer may spread through the wall of the bowel to invade adjacent organs and via the blood stream or the lymphatic system. However, when bowel cancer is diagnosed early, then there is an excellent chance of being completely cured.
The vast majority of patients with bowel symptoms do not have a serious illness. The following symptoms however should be investigated:
- Persistent change in bowel habit particularly increased frequency of going to the toilet and/or increased looseness of the stools particularly when this is associated with bleeding from the back passage.
- Persistent change in bowel habit without bleeding from the back passage in patients over the age of 60.
- Bleeding from the back passage persistently without any symptoms suggestive of piles e.g soreness, itchiness and pain or swelling around the back passage.
- Other higher risk symptoms and signs include unexplained anaemia and any 'masses' or lump(s) that can be felt in the tummy
Screening for Bowel Cancer (Colonoscopy)
Patients aged between 60 and 69 are eligible to take part in the national screening programme for bowel cancer. This involves faecal occult blood [FOB] testing (looking for blood in the stools). If bowel cancer is suspected, patients will then be referred for a colonoscopy (an examination with a longer flexible telescope to inspect inside the entire length of the large bowel). Colonoscopy remains the best method for detecting bowel or rectal cancer and also has the advantage of allowing removal of polyps at the same time. Mr Tsavellas has performed thousands of colonoscopies and during your consultation will advise you whether this is the most suitable investigation for your symptoms.
Family History of Bowel Cancer
If you have:
- One close relative under 45 affected (brother, sister, parent or child) - talk to your GP about screening. It's usually recommended around 10 years before the age at which your relative developed the disease.
- Two or more close relatives from the same side of the family, and the younger those relatives, the more you need to discuss screening with your GP
- A less strong family history - say one grandparent who died in their 70s or 80s - you are probably at no increased risk. Talk to your GP if you are worried.
Keyhole Surgery for Bowel Cancer
In experienced hands, the laparoscopic (keyhole) approach for the treatment of colonic or rectal cancer is associated with less post operative pain, quicker recovery and similar complication rates compared with open colorectal surgery. Mr Tsavellas performs nearly 80% of all colorectal cancer operations laparoscopically, and has presented his results at both regional and national level.