About bowel cancer
What is the bowel?
The bowel is part of the food digestive system. It joins the stomach to the anus (bottom) and helps waste material (called a bowel motion, faeces or poo) to leave the body. The bowel is made up of the small bowel and large bowel (colon and rectum).
What is bowel cancer?
Bowel cancer is also called colon, rectal or colorectal cancer.
There may be no warning signs that you have bowel cancer.
Bowel cancer starts when cells in the bowel begin to grow out of control. The cells can turn into a polyp (growth) and some polyps may turn into a cancer over a number of years.
It can take a long time before the cancer grows and spreads to other parts of the body. That’s why regular bowel screening is important – it can help find cancers early, when they are easier to treat.
New Zealand has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world. Bowel cancer is the second highest cause of cancer death in New Zealand. Currently more than 3000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year and more than 1200 die from the disease.
Symptoms of bowel cancer
Common symptoms of bowel cancer may include:
- a change in your normal bowel habit that continues for several weeks
- blood in your bowel motion.
Although these symptoms are usually caused by other conditions, it’s important to get them checked by your doctor.
Screening tests can find bowel cancer early
Regular bowel screening provides an opportunity to find and treat bowel cancer at an early stage – before you develop symptoms.
If you’re diagnosed early, you have a 90% chance of long-term survival. If the cancer is found at a later, more advanced stage, it is harder to treat.
If you are found to have bowel cancer you will be referred to a specialist. The main treatment for bowel cancer is surgery. In some cases, chemotherapy or radiotherapy may be recommended.