Bowel cancer is generally the umbrella term used for many forms of cancer that begins anywhere on the large bowel.
It has many names depending on where it starts; it can be colon cancer, rectal cancer or even colorectal cancer.
Although a highly preventive disease, bowel cancer is still the 2nd deadliest form of cancer in Australia.
It is estimated about 293 Australians are told that they have bowel cancer each week.
So, the question is, how long can we have bowel cancer without knowing about it?
The answer is from several months to up to many years!
About 75% of all new bowel cancer cases occur in individuals with no known risk of the disease. This means the chances of early diagnosis could be easily missed as people won’t suspect one.
Additionally, early bowel cancer usually comes with no symptoms. In some cases, it may take up to several years, before it is diagnosed.
The three main symptoms of bowel cancer to keep an eye on
A change in your bowel habits is inevitably the first sign of this disease. These habits could be in many forms – it can be diarrhoea, constipation or just a feeling of incomplete emptying after your morning regime.
With that being said, there are three specific early symptoms of bowel cancer to keep an eye on, and they might come in combinations.
- A persistent abdominal discomfort such as pain, cramps and bloating which is frequently provoked by eating bigger meals
- The need to frequently go to the toilet coupled with looser stool and with blood on it
- Persistent change in bowel habits causing discomfort without blood in the stool but with severe abdominal pain
Early screening is the only way to diagnose bowel cancer
Screening for bowel cancer is the most effective way to prevent it.
In general, all men and women aged 45 to 75 should undergo routine screening to reduce their risk of dying from bowel cancer.
People with a family history of bowel cancer, or personal and family history of inflammatory bowel disease or people with severe symptoms such as rectal bleeding must undergo screenings more frequently. It is however best to discuss with a doctor the frequency of your screenings.
In addition, women with a family and personal history of ovarian cancer, endometriosis or even breast cancer are at a higher risk of bowel cancer and may require screenings as early as 40 years old.
For the screening, a Bowel Kit to check for microscopic blood in the bowel motion if the initial test and colonoscopy is the most advanced option which can detect bowel cancer when the tumours are small.