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Consultant Laparoscopic Colorectal and General Surgeon

Pre-surgery investigations

Colorectal cancer – the warning signs

Colorectal cancer, also called bowel cancer or colon cancer, is common in older people with an average age at presentation of about 70.

Only 15 % of people diagnosed with colorectal cancer in the UK are under 65, but beyond that age incidence increases sharply.

One in 20 of us will eventually develop cancer in either the large bowel or the rectum. Fortunately, early treatment for colorectal cancer can be very effective and provide a cure. So, spotting early warning signs can be life-saving.

Is colorectal cancer screening available?

Colorectal cancer causes few obvious symptoms in its early stages, but early diagnosis is important. The UK now has an NHS Bowel Screening Programme that checks for occult (non-visible) blood in faeces in people aged 60 to 69. If you have a strong family history of bowel cancer, or you have had a bowel polyp, you may be advised to have a colonoscopy at regular intervals to monitor the health of your bowel as you get older.

Investigating worrying symptoms

“If your GP thinks that your symptoms need further investigation, you are likely to be referred to a specialist to have a colonoscopy or a sigmoidoscopy. These procedures allow us to see the inner wall of the entire large bowel to either rule out or confirm a colorectal cancer diagnosis. Polyps can also be removed safely during these procedures.”

Mr Jonathan Wilson is a colorectal surgeon who specialises in minimally invasive surgery for colorectal conditions, including colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer symptoms to look out for

If you are younger than 60 and you notice any of the following symptoms, see your GP, or make an appointment to see Mr Wilson:

  • A change in your bowel habits: constipation is rarely a sign of bowel cancer, but if you develop loose stools or diarrhoea for no apparent reason and it lasts more than three weeks, see your doctor.
  • Fresh or darker coloured blood on the toilet paper or in the toilet: this may be a coating or mixed throughout the stool, or be separate from it and colour the water red.
  • A feeling that your bowel is full, even though you have recently defecated; this is known medically as tenesmus.
  • Pain or a feeling of bloating in your abdomen that lasts for more than a few days.
  • Losing weight without dieting or exercising.
  • Signs of anaemia, such as tiredness, dizziness or breathlessness, could suggest you have some bleeding that is not noticeable, but still significant.

What are polyps?

Polyps are benign growths that develop on the inside wall of the large bowel. They may cause bleeding or they may cause no symptoms at all. The majority of polyps need to be removed because if they are left in place, polyps have a high chance of becoming malignant.

Why do polyps need to be removed?

Most polyps can be removed safely during a colonoscopy. In exceptional circumstances they may require surgical removal, which is now frequently performed using minimally invasive techniques (laparoscopy).

All polyps are sent off to the lab to have an expert histopathologist look at them under a microscope to find out whether they show signs of changes that may suggest colorectal cancer is likely if they are not removed.

Need more information?

To find out more about colorectal cancer and its management you may find the following links useful.

What if I have colorectal cancer?

Catching colorectal cancer early means that you will have a good chance of cure. Your cancer will be staged using CT scans and sometimes an additional MRI scan. You will then see a Colorectal Surgeon to plan your operation. The affected portion of bowel will be removed along with a margin of healthy bowel, and then the remaining sections will be re-joined. A proportion of patients may need radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

Please get in touch today to arrange an appointment here.