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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Overview of bowel cancer

Tirohanga whānui ki te mate pukupuku terotero

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Bowel cancer is a common cancer. It can occur in the large bowel (also called the colon or large intestine) or rectum (the last section of the large bowel). Most bowel cancers develop from a tiny growth (polyp) that slowly gets bigger over many years.

The National Bowel Screening Programme (NBSP) is a free programme to help detect bowel cancer. It is offered every two years to men and women aged 60 to 74. It can find cancer at an early stage so it can be successfully treated.

Risk factors for bowel cancer

Some people are more likely to get bowel cancer than others. You cannot change some of the risk factors that increase your likelihood of getting bowel cancer. But you can change some lifestyle factors.

Risk factors you cannot change include:

Risk factors you can change include:

See Reducing your risk of bowel cancer for information on how to reduce your risk.

Symptoms of bowel cancer

The main symptoms of bowel cancer are:

Sometimes there are no symptoms at all in the early stages, which is why it is so important to take part in the free National Bowel Screening programme.

Diagnosing bowel cancer

Your general practice team will ask you about your symptoms and whether you have a family history of bowel cancer. They may examine you and ask you to have a blood test and a test for blood in your poo.

If there is any concern, you will be offered a colonoscopy. This involves a tube with a camera being passed through your bottom to look at the inside of your bowel.

Treating bowel cancer

The treatment for bowel cancer depends on its type and stage (how far it has spread) and the severity of the symptoms. It also depends on your general health and what treatment you wish to have.

Surgery is the main treatment. In some cases, your health providers may recommend chemotherapy (medicines to destroy cancer cells) or radiotherapy (radiation to destroy cancer cells).

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

On the next page: Reducing your risk of bowel cancer

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed May 2024.


See also:

Bowel polyps

Bowel surgery

Page reference: 807816

Review key: HIBWC-17275