What Is Bowel Cancer? Symptoms and Treatment

Colorectal cancer or bowel cancer is a type of cancer that forms from uncontrolled cell growth. This growth originates in portions of the large intestine; although it also may form in the appendix. Perhaps unsurprisingly, bowel cancer forms from the cells lining the organ.

This form of cancer mainly affects the large bowel, while the small bowels remain relatively cancer-free. The condition is the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths. At least six percent of people in Western countries end up developing the condition. Bowel cancer is curable in 40 to 50 percent of most cases, generally with the help of surgical intervention.

How does the condition form?

The cells in the colon may undergo a series of ‘mutations,’ controlling how the cells there divide and survive. When the cells start dividing in an uncontrollable manner, the result may produce a clump of malignant or cancerous cells. Polyps or an adenoma, clumps of abnormal cells resting on the end of a normal cell stalk, form after these mutations take place.

During this phase, the adenoma is considered pre-cancerous; just five percent of these malignant polyps become cancerous, sometimes life-threatening in nature. This happens when the polyp starts swelling over a long period of time. The abnormal cells start infiltrating the polyp, later spreading to the underlying colon tissue where the polyp resides. At this point, the cancer starts appearing in affected patients.

What are the symptoms?

Bowel cancer’s many symptoms start once the cancer infiltrates a patient’s colon tissue. Constipation is a common symptom, once the cancerous growth starts to block a portion of the lower bowels. If the bowel becomes completely obstructed, a patient generally starts experiencing severe abdominal pain and vomiting.

Cancerous growths in the proximal colon’s lumen portion are likely to cause symptoms of innate tiredness, shortness of breath and bouts of nausea. Bleeding from the rectum is also a common symptom, which may lead to the loss of blood over time.

Is treatment possible?

Treatment for bowel cancer involves surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and biological therapy. Surgery is the most common treatment for bowel cancer, though some patients require chemotherapy in advanced stages of the disease.

In surgery, the infected portions of the bowels are removed, according to the cancer’s stage of progression. In the first three stages of progression there is a requirement for surgical treatment to remove the cancerous tissue, coupled with chemotherapy for stages two and three. Stage four of the illness doesn’t have an absolute cure, though can be slowed by using the aforementioned four treatments.

How Bowel Cancer Symptoms Differ From IBS Symptoms

The symptoms of bowel cancer and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) often get confused by many – often leading one to think that a different disease may be present than actually is. However, the symptoms are clear between the diseases when properly understood by an individual who maybe suffering from one or another.

Bowel Cancer (colorectal cancer, or colon cancer) is basically any form of cancer that affects the colon (large bowel), or rectum (back-passage) – usually very slow-growing (10 years) before metastasis (spread) becomes apparent, and often starts as benign (non-cancerous) growths (polyps) that are present on the bowel wall.

Polyps are small growth like spots on stalks (most produce no symptoms at all) that become more prevalent as an individual gets older (most polyps are non-cancerous; however, one type, an “adenoma” can become cancerous ([malignant] when left undetected, its cells can multiply to form a tumor in the bowel which causes pain and bleeding).

Symptoms of bowel cancer may include:

  • Abdominal pains (gripping, but usually not chronic).
  • Anal bleeding and pain – loose stool (often containing blood [sometimes constipation – feeling the need to strain when not necessary]).
  • A right-hand-sided lump in the back-passage or abdomen.
  • Sensation of being bloated.
  • Sickness.
  • Weight-loss.

Further growth in the bowel wall and back-passage gives cancer cells the ability to travel into the bloodstream or the lymph node system – thus contaminating other organs in the body (the liver and lungs being the most common [metastasis]).

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) – is a digestive disorder that a large part of the population suffers from (estimated to be around 15%); however, because of it being such a delicate (embarrassing) illness – is little spoken of. Although, IBS offers similar symptoms to bowel cancer.

Symptoms of IBS may include:

  • Chronic abdominal pains.
  • Major disturbances within the functioning process of the bowel (diarrhea at a moments notice [up to 3-time a day] and often preceded by constipation), chronic constipation 3-times a week [sometimes alternating between the two], and mucus in the stool).
  • Anxiety or depression.
  • Back aches.
  • Headaches.
  • Heart fluttering (palpitations – sensations of heart beat-skips).
  • Insomnia (problems getting to sleep).
  • Sexual problems (pains during sex or a reduced sexual desire).
  • Unpleasant tastes in the mouth.
  • Urinary problems (a frequent or urgent need to urinate, trouble starting to urinate, or trouble emptying the bladder).

IBS involves the malfunction of how the intestinal system works (a functional disorder that does not show in any visible disease process or tissue damage [it is more of a bowel interference]).

Note: Symptoms given for both bowel cancer and IBS include possible secondary symptoms – and where both illnesses may affect an individual in different ways.

Colon Cancer: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Colon Cancer Symptoms

Cancer of the colon is one of the most frequently diagnosed cancer types, the symptoms of which can be manifested in different ways. Listed below are the most widely reported symptoms of the disease, which should never be overlooked. So, if you notice any of them, there is no time to wait. This does not necessarily mean that you have cancer, because the symptoms may be associated with other diseases. However, it is better to undergo a series of tests to find out whether you need medical help or not. Thus, the most common colon cancer symptoms include:

  • Bleeding from the rectum and blood in the stool or on the underwear (by the way, many people mistakenly tend to associate these symptoms with hemorrhoids and lose precious time required to save their lives)
  • Terry or black stool, which is observed on a regular basis (the thing is that blood in the stool may not be that obvious and if the tumor is located in the distant parts of the colon, the blood may be digested, thus causing the black color of the stool)
  • Low hemoglobin levels in the blood, which is the sign of constant hidden bleeding in the organism
  • Fatigue, loss of consciousness, recurrent dizziness, persistent weight loss
  • Diarrhea, constipation or the feeling of insufficient bowel movement
  • Bowel obstruction, which mostly develops, when the tumor is large enough not to allow proper colon functioning. These situations just cannot be left unnoticed, because the condition of a patient gets worse with every passing day. The symptoms of bowel obstruction include repeated bloating, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, abdominal pain, enormously sticking belly (or parts of it), narrow or ribbon-like stool, change of the regular bowel movement process, the feeling of incomplete bowel evacuation etc.

Experts underline that the average duration of these symptoms lasts for about 2 weeks. This is the time needed to a person to understand that something bad is going on in the organism and seek medical help.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Before diagnosing colon cancer, a doctor recommends a patient to undergo a series of analyses and medical tests. These include:

  • Blood, urine and stool tests
  • Fecal occult blood testing (FOBT)
  • Digital or physical rectal exam
  • Colonoscopy, which is an obligatory endoscopic test that is generally done with the use of sedative medications and shows, what is going on inside the colon and can identify the existence and exact location of the tumor, polyps or other problems
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy, which is needed to examine the rectum and the lower parts of the colon
  • Computer tomography colonography
  • Anti-contrast barium enema followed by the X-ray procedure

If you have been diagnosed with colon cancer on time, you have to find out as much as you can about all the possible colon cancer treatment methods, which are the most effective and safe in your case. As of today, these treatments methods are as follows:

  • Surgical intervention, which implies removing the affected part of the colon
  • Chemotherapy, which follows the surgery and may help prevent the advanced development of the disease in case the tumor has affected the lymph nodes
  • Radioactive treatment, which also follows the surgery and is especially effective in the treatment of patients suffering from rectal cancer. The procedure is not quite effective, when it comes to curing the patients with colon cancer.
  • In cases of the colorectal type of the disease, doctors may decide to create a permanent or temporary colostomy. While the latter variant is a temporary solution, which is required to restore the functioning of the colon after the surgery, the permanent colostomy may be left for a lifetime, thus triggering many problems and stresses. The decision depends upon the type, location and stage of colon cancer you have, the treatment and the prognoses of oncologists.

Anyway, your doctor will make everything possible to help you get rid of the disease and resume your previous lifestyle. However, you will have to see your oncologist and undergo a series of tests and procedures on a regular basis to prevent the development of the new forms of the disease.