Bowel cancer describes cancer that begins in the large bowel. Depending on where the cancer starts, bowel cancer is sometimes called colon or rectal cancer. Advanced bowel (colorectal) cancer is cancer of the colon or rectum that has spread to other parts of the body. Bowel cancer most commonly spreads to the liver or lungs.
According to Cancer Research UK, a person might have any of these symptoms if the cancer has spread to their liver:
- Discomfort or pain on the right side of your abdomen
- Feeling sick
- Poor appetite and weight loss
- Swollen abdomen (called ascites)
- Yellowing of the skin (jaundice)
- Itchy skin
As Bowel Cancer UK explained, treatment for cancer that has spread to the liver is usually palliative, which means it relieves symptoms but cannot cure the cancer.
“Palliative treatments, such as chemotherapy and biological therapies, can keep the cancer under control, improve your quality of life and help you live longer,” said the charity.
In some cases, however, bowel cancer that has spread to the liver may controlled for a long time our possibly cured by undergoing surgery and chemotherapy, added the health body.
Since the survival rates of advanced cancer are poor, early diagnosis is vital to improving outcomes.
According to the NHS, the three main warning signs of bowel cancer are:
- Persistent blood in the stools – that occurs for no obvious reason or is associated with a change in bowel habit
- A persistent change in your bowel habit – which usually means going more often, with looser stools
- Persistent lower abdominal (tummy) pain, bloating or discomfort – that’s always caused by eating and may be associated with loss of appetite or significant unintentional weight loss
“If you have one or more of the symptoms of bowel cancer and they have persisted for more than four weeks, see your GP,” advised the NHS.
Although the exact cause of bowel cancer is still unknown, growing research suggests certain lifestyle decisions can reduce a person’s risk of developing the disease.
According to Bowel Cancer UK, scientists believe around half (54 per cent) of all bowel cancers could be prevented by having a healthier lifestyle.
The charity suggests reducing red meat consumption and avoiding processed meats altogether to mitigate the risks.
It also recommends maintaining an active lifestyle, drinking alcohol in moderation and avoiding smoking.
One recent study published in the journal Gut also suggested that eating two or more weekly servings of yogurt may help to lower the risk of developing the abnormal growths (adenomas) which precede the development of bowel cancer – at least in men.
The researchers looked at the diets and subsequent development of different types of adenoma among 32,606 men who were part of the Health Professionals Follow Up Study and 55,743 women who were part of the Nurses Health Study.
All the study participants had had a lower bowel endoscopy – a procedure that enables a clinician to view the inside of the gut – between 1986 and 2012.
And every four years, they provided detailed information on lifestyle and diet, including how much yogurt they ate.
During the study period, 5811 adenomas developed in the men and 8116 in the women.
Compared with men who didn’t eat yogurt, those who ate two or more servings a week were 19 per cent less likely to develop a conventional adenoma.