Bowel Cancer: facts everyone should
After lung cancer, bowel
cancer (the collective term for cancer of the colon and cancer of the rectum) is
the biggest cancer killer in most parts of the world. Bowel cancer is a problem
that is growing yearly. The main cause? Diet. The evidence clearly shows a link
between the consumption of meat (especially fatty meat) and the incidence of
(Traditionally, Japan has had the lowest incidence of bowel
cancer in the world. This was probably due to their low fat and high fibre diet.
But in recent years, since a Western diet has been introduced into Japan, bowel
cancer amongst the Japanese has risen.)
colon (also known as the large intestine) consists of four parts: the ascending
colon, transverse colon, descending colon and the sigmoid colon.
colon's main function is to absorb electrolytes and water from undigested food
received from the ileum (small intestine). As it travels through the colon, the
undigested food slowly forms into semi-solid faeces. The faeces then makes their
way towards the rectum (the last part of the intestine) and stay there until
The colon makes up approximately the first 6 feet of the
large intestine and the rectum makes up around the last 8-10 inches.
What Is Bowel Cancer?
Bowel cancer is a malignant
(life-threatening) tumour that has developed either in the colon or in the
rectum or in both.
Cancer of the colon and cancer of the rectum are
sometimes referred to collectively as colo-rectal cancer but most people know
them both under the generic name `bowel cancer'.
Studies have shown that
most colorectal cancers begin as a polyp, which over a period of years, becomes
malignant. A polyp is a non-malignant growth of tissue from the intestinal wall
which protrudes into the intestine. Not all polyps turn into cancer of course,
but having polyps does increase your risk of developing cancer. Polyps can
sometimes be inherited and there is a hereditary condition known as familial
polyposis which can inevitably increase your chances of developing bowel cancer.
Your Risk Of Developing Bowel Cancer Increases With:
* Age. Your risk of developing cancer of the bowel rises after the age
* A family or a personal history of bowel cancer or of familial
polyposis. If this applies to you, then you should take extra care when it comes
to looking after your health. (If a close relative developed bowel cancer before
the age of 50, then you have a slightly greater risk than average of developing
the disease. But don't worry too much as there is plenty you can do to help
protect yourself against getting bowel cancer).
* Ulcerative colitis, Crohn's
disease and other inflammatory bowel diseases. People with any of these
conditions have a higher risk than average of developing bowel cancer. * A diet
high in fat, especially animal fat. If you consume lots of meat, greasy foods or
dairy produce then you are markedly increasing your chances of getting cancer of
* Lack of exercise. You should take regular, gentle exercise to
decrease your chances of developing the disease. Strenuous exercise has been
shown to have no additional benefit whatsoever.
* Obesity. Studies have shown
that excess fat can influence the metabolism to increase cell growth in the
colon and in the rectum.
* Alcohol taken in excess. Alcohol is
responsible for many illnesses so it is wise, therefore, to drink in
* A diet low in fibre. Try eating more fresh fruit and vegetables
which are high in fibre. Besides, fresh fruit and vegetables are known to
contain protective qualities which can help prevent against the development of
If you are exposed to any of the risk factors above, it doesn't
mean to say that you are going to go on to develop bowel cancer. However, if any
of the above risk factors do apply to you, then it is only sensible to take
better care of your health. You might want to discuss preventative measures with
your doctor, especially if you have a family or a personal history of bowel
cancer or of familial polyps, or if you suffer from ulcerative colitis or
Remember, if caught early enough, bowel cancer can be
cured. Some people feel embarrassed about discussing bowel problems with their
doctor. By the time the patient seeks medical advice because he or she cannot
cope any longer with his or her symptoms, it can sometimes be too late. Be
sensible; don't die of embarrassment.
Symptoms Of Bowel Cancer
* A recent change in bowel habits which has persisted
for more than 10 days such as: constipation, diarrhoea or a feeling that the
bowel hasn't emptied properly.
* Weight loss for no known reason.
Bloating or pain and tenderness in the lower abdomen.
* Black, tarry stools
(be aware that certain medications such as iron tablets can cause the stools to
* Going to the toilet more often than usual.
Pain in the rectum which may make sitting down uncomfortable.
* Either bright
red or very dark blood on the toilet paper or in your stools (certain foods such
as beetroot can cause redness in the stools which can look like blood
* Defecation may be painful.
* Loss of bowel control.
in the shape of your stools, especially if they are narrow or pipe-like.
* Constant fatigue.
What You Can Do To Help Protect
Yourself From Bowel Cancer
1. Nothing is more important for your
health than eating a healthy balanced diet. You should cut out meat and fatty
foods from your diet. If you can't stop eating meat or fatty foods then you
should at least cut down on the amount you normally consume. You should also cut
down on dairy produce and refined carbohydrates such as sugar in your diet. Eat
plenty of wholegrain foods, fresh fruit and vegetables, especially cabbage,
broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Vegetables tend to lose their goodness when
they're cooked; lightly steaming vegetables is better as it tends to keep some
of the goodness in. Lycopene, a chemical which is found in tomatoes is supposed
to have powerful anti-cancer protective qualities, but the benefits can only be
gained by cooking the tomatoes.
2. If you don't take much exercise, then
you should start exercising more. Walking is good exercise. You should aim to
exercise a couple of times a week but you must do it in moderation (you should
always consult your doctor before taking-up any form of exercise).
you're overweight, then you should try and slim down. Following the above
guidelines should help you to lose weight.
4. If you smoke, then you
ought to give it up if you want to decrease your chances of getting bowel cancer
or any kind of cancer.
5. If you drink alcohol in excess, then cut
Remember, if caught early enough,
bowel cancer can be cured. Some people feel embarrassed about discussing bowel
problems with their doctor. By the time the patient seeks medical advice because
he or she cannot cope any longer with his or her symptoms,it can sometimes be
too late. Be sensible; don't die of embarrassment.
This article is
taken from a much longer chapter in `How To Conquer Health Problems Between
Ages 50 and 120' which is written by Vernon Coleman and Donna Antoinette
Coleman and published in 2004 by EMJ books. The chaper on bowel cancer also
includes material dealing with tests and treatment. The book, price £15.99 is
available from Publishing House in the usual ways or from all good bookshops and
libraries. (See the webshop on this website for on-line purchase.)
For those still in doubt about the link between eating meat and developing
cancer Vernon Coleman's book `Food for Thought' contains all the evidence
you're likely to need to persuade yourself. The book contains 24 pages
summarising the scientific evidence showing that meat causes cancer while a diet
rich in fruit and vegetables helps to minimise cancer risk.
Vernon Coleman 2003