Bowel cancer is cancer of the large bowel, which has two important segments, the colon and rectum. Bowel cancer is therefore also referred to collectively as colorectal cancer or distinctively as colon cancer and rectal cancer. Bowel cancer is the third most common type of cancer in the world today.
Bowel cancer shows little or no symptoms in its early stages. Though this inhibits early detection, bowel cancer can be detected well before the later or advanced stages by typical symptoms, and can be treated successfully with prompt medical intervention. The symptoms of bowel cancer depend on the initial location of the malignant tumor. If the tumor is located in the right part of the colon that is larger than the left, deleterious abdominal symptoms are observed only after the tumor grows sufficiently to cause partial or complete obstruction in the lumen (the space within the tubular colon structure). Alternatively, the left part of the colon is narrower and tumors in this location are more likely to cause partial or complete obstruction of the lumen earlier, thereby causing earlier abdominal symptoms.
Most of the abdominal symptoms are due to this obstruction of the lumen and subsequent deleterious cellular events. The symptoms include frequent constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, abdominal cramps, and bloating. Frequent red stool or stool with visible blood strains and rectal bleeding may indicate colon cancer, especially in the rectum or left part of the colon. Tumors in the right part of the colon may cause blood loss that is not visible during the process of excretion and this loss of blood within the lumen often causes weakness, fatigue, and shortness of breath.
It is vital to mention here that the symptoms of various other abdominal diseases including irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, diverticulosis, and peptic ulcer are similar to colorectal cancer and it is advisable to have a colorectal screening if there is a sudden change in bowel habits, frequent diarrhea, or constipation and visible change in the consistency or shape of the stool. Frequent rectal bleeding or blood strains in the stool, severe abdominal cramps, and pain indicate bowel cancer.
These bowel cancer symptoms are often accompanied by symptoms such as the feeling that the bowel has not been completely emptied, abnormal weakness, and shortness of breath. Finally, unexplained weight loss in addition to the aforementioned symptoms may indicate bowel cancer.
It has been clinically proven that abdominal diseases including chronic ulcerative colitis and the presence of tissue structures (polyps) in the colon are potential risk factors for bowel cancer. Age, race, genetically inherited colon syndromes, family history, high fat diet, low fiber diet, sedentary lifestyle, diabetes, obesity, smoking, and alcohol intake are other known risk factors. Unfortunately, colon polyps and early stage bowel cancer may show no symptoms at all, so routine cancer screenings is the only available option for those who experience frequent abdominal symptoms.
This issue regarding the detection of bowel cancer symptoms is so severe that scientists worldwide are striving to find new guidelines for clinicians and consumers in order to improve early detection of colorectal cancer.
Bowel cancer can be detected and located easily by such tests as a lower GI series (barium enema) or colonoscopy. If cancer like growth is suspected in such tests, small tissue samples are obtained for biopsy examination. If cancer is confirmed from the biopsy, then tests are performed to classify it by the four defined stages of bowel cancer. These tests include chest x-rays, ultrasonography, CAT scan, and CEA Test.
Surgery is the best option for the treatment of colorectal cancer. For rectal cancer treatment, the rectum must be surgically removed. Survival depends on various factors including age and the stage of the cancer. Chemotherapy delays tumor recurrence and improves survival. Adjuvant chemotherapy is sometimes given after surgery to destroy microscopic cancer cells. Radiation therapy for colorectal cancer is recommended only for treating it. Follow-up examinations are critical to cancer care.
A disciplined lifestyle that includes regular exercise, low fat and fiber rich diet, reduced and regulated alcohol and tobacco consumption, prompt medical attention to abnormal abdominal symptoms, and regular colon screening is the best way to prevent bowel cancer. Colon cancer preventive dietary intake recommendations include vegetables like asparagus that contain inulin and rich dietary fiber, fennel seeds rich in aspartic acid, and a daily dietary fiber intake of at least 9 grams per day.