Boots WebMD Partners in Health
Return To Boots

Bowel cancer health centre

Select a topic to explore more.
Select An Article

What is bowel cancer?

Bowel cancer is common, with around 1 in 20 people in the UK likely to develop bowel cancer during their lives.

Bowel cancer may also be referred to as colon or rectal cancer depending on where the cancer is located.

Inside your abdominal cavity is the long, tubular digestive tract. The second part of this tube -- the large intestine -- is composed of the colon, which stretches 120 cm to 180 cm (four to six feet), and the rectum, which is only 10 to 15 cm (four to six inches) long.

The inner lining of this "colorectal tube" can be a fertile breeding ground for small tumours, called polyps. By the age of 60, an estimated 30-40% of people will have at least one adenomatous polyp - that is, a polyp with potential to become malignant, in their colon. Most bowel (or colorectal) cancers develop from polyps in the glandular tissue of the intestinal lining.

Understanding Colorectal Cancer -- the Basics

Most polyps are benign, but adenomatous polyps are known to be pre- cancerous. If bowel cancer is diagnosed and treated early, while the tumour is still localised, the disease is highly curable, with five-year survival rates of about 90%. If the tumour continues to grow, cancer can spread directly through the bowel wall to surrounding tissues and organs, as well as into the bloodstream or lymphatic system.

Once the cancer spreads to lymph nodes or other organs, successful treatment becomes more difficult. Depending on how advanced the disease is, five-year survival rates for bowel cancer range from around 6% to 93%.

Around two thirds of bowel cancers develop in the colon, and one third develop in the rectum.

Although diagnosis is often possible at an early stage, many people delay seeking medical care because they are embarrassed about, or fearful of, symptoms related to their bowels. The risk of bowel cancer increases significantly after the age of 50 and continues to increase with age.

Next Article:

WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on January 20, 2015

Popular slideshows & tools on BootsWebMD

woman looking at pregnancy test
Early pregnancy symptoms
donut on plate
The truth about sugar addiction
Put your best face forward
couple watching sunset
How much do you know?
woman in bikini
Get ready for swimsuit season
How to help tension headaches
assorted spices
Pump up the flavour with spices
bag of crisps
Food cravings that wreck your diet
woman with cucumbers on eyes
How to banish dark circles and bags
probiotic shakes
Help digestion
polka dot dress on hangar
Lose weight without dieting