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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Overview of bowel cancer

This page has links to information in other languages.


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, or polyp, that slowly gets bigger over many years.

Reducing your risk of 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 can’t change include:

The National Bowel Screening Programme (NBSP) is a free programme to help detect bowel cancer. It's being offered every two years to men and women aged 60 to 74 who are eligible for publicly funded health services.

Bowel screening is the most important thing you can do to reduce your risk of bowel cancer. It could help save your life by finding bowel cancer at an early stage where it can often be successfully treated.

For more information about the NBSP, see Time to Screen or phone 0800-924-432.

You can also call 0800-924-432 to get information or help in another language.

Symptoms of bowel cancer

The main symptoms of bowel cancer are:

Diagnosing bowel cancer

Your GP 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 various tests including a blood test, a test for blood in your bowel motions or a colonoscopy.

Treating bowel cancer

The three main ways bowel cancer is treated are surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

On the next page: Reducing your risk of bowel cancer

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by clinical director, Gastroenterology, Canterbury DHB. Last reviewed November 2020.


See also:

Bowel polyps

Bowel surgery

Page reference: 807816

Review key: HIBWC-17275