Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Bowel Cancer Awareness Month

So April is upon us already. Time is passing by like crazy at the moment. I apologise for the lack of blog posts recently, time seems to escape from me! April is a crazy month for me but I have built up a backlog of posts to ensure I post more this month!

April is also Bowel Cancer Awareness Month in the UK. Bowel cancer runs in my family and my paternal aunt, Eleni and paternal uncle/Godfather, Sotiris both passed away after suffering from colon cancer, which is a variation of cancer of the bowel. In a few years time I will be old enough to follow in my dad’s footsteps and have regular colonoscopies to ensure I catch anything early.

This post is dedicated to my aunt and uncle as well as my dad who has had to find a way to live without his big brother and little sister. I am going to try and raise some awareness of cancer of the bowel and some charities you should keep an eye out for this month.

What is the Bowel?
The bowel is divided into the small bowel (small intestine) and the large bowel (colon and rectum). It is part of our digestive system:
* Food passes from the stomach to the small bowel.
* The small bowel takes nutrients  into our body 
* Any undigested food passes through the large bowel
* Water is then removed from the waste matter
* The waste matter is then held in the rectum (back passage) until it leaves the body as bowel motions (stools or faeces)

What is Bowel Cancer?
* Cancer occurs when the cells in your bowel multiply out of control. 
* These cells can invade surrounding tissue and spread to other parts of the body.
* Nearly all bowel cancers develop in the large bowel. Two thirds are in the colon and one third in the rectum.
* Bowel cancer is also referred to as colorectal, colon or rectal cancer.
* Cancer of the small bowel is rare - just over 700 people a year are diagnosed in the UK.

Bowel Cancer and Gender:
* Nearly 40,000 men and women are diagnosed with bowel cancer in the UK every year.
* Bowel cancer is the UK's second biggest cancer killer
* More then 16,250 people dies each year from it (this equals one person every thirty minutes)
* Bowel cancer is highly treatable if diagnosed in the early stages.

Bowel Cancer Symptoms:
You may experience one, some or all of these symptoms or none at all. It is important to know your body and your bowel habits and visit your GP as soon as you feel something is up. Early diagnosis is key to having the best shot at survival.
* Bleeding from your bottom and/or blood in your poo
* A change in bowel habit that lasts longer then three weeks (especially looser or runny poo)
* Unexplained weight loss
* Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason
* A pain or lump in your tummy

How is Bowel Cancer Diagnosed?
* The process begins with you seeing your GP and discussing your symptoms. You will be asked about your bowel habits and pattern. It is hugely important to describe what is normal and abnormal for you. Also, remember to mention any significant family history. Do not be embarrassed; your doctor is a medical professional who has seen and heard it all. Discussing your poo may be awkward but it could also save your life.
* Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may want to feel your abdomen and examine your back passage with a digital rectal examination. This entails your doctor placing a gloved finger into your back passage and feeling for any lumps or swelling. This can be uncomfortable but not painful.
* You may be asked to give a stool (poo) sample so it can be tested for blood. This is because polyps (small growths within the bowel) could turn cancerous and tumours often bleed.
*You may also need a blood test to check for anaemia
* If your doctor believes your symptoms are being caused by cancer, they will refer your to a hospital specialist. You should be seen within two weeks and sent for further tests. These tests could be a colonoscopy (examination of your rectum and colon) or a flexible sigmoidoscopy (examination of the rectum and lower part of the colon)

Is a Colonoscopy Painful?
* You will made comfortable on a couch or bed and a nurse will stay with you throughout the test.
* You may also be given light sedation which will help you relax
* The doctor or nurse will gently pass a long flexible tube, that has a light and camera on the end, into your back passage and then into your bowel.
* Air will be passed through the tube to distend the bowel and give a clearer view of the lining. This may give you wind like pains but they won't last long.
* After the test you will be left to rest for around thirty minutes. You may feel a little bloated but this will settle quickly.
* You will need someone to come and collect you, especially if you were sedated.

What Does Treatment for Bowel Cancer Involve?
* The treatments for colon and rectal cancer are different. There will be many options to consider. Your specialist nurse or consultant will discuss them with you.
* Cancer in the Colon: The most common form of treatment is surgery. This could be open or keyhole. If surgery isn't available you may be offered chemo first but this is rare. Chemo can be recommended after surgery, unless the cancer was caught in the very early stages.
* Cancer in the Rectum: Usually treatment will involve a short course of radiotherapy and chemotherapy (known as chemoradiation) then surgery and then possible more chemo.

Minimising your Bowel Cancer Risk:
The exact cause of bowel cancer is unknown. However there are certain factors that can increase your risk:
* Consider your diet (read my healthy eating post!)
* Keep active with regular exercise
* Keep hydrated and limit your alcohol intake
* Avoid smoking
* Take part in bowel cancer screening programmes if and when invited

Bowel Cancer UK (www.bowelcanceruk.org.uk)
* Bowel Cancer UK aim to save lives by raising awareness or bowel cancer, campaigning for the best treatments and care, and providing practical support and advice.
* If people have any questions about bowel cancer; whether they or a loved one have been diagnosed, we are here to help. Nurses are available from Monday to Friday, 10am -4pm. You can contact them on 0800 840 3540 or on support@bowelcanceruk.org.uk
* We work closely with the NHS and Department of Health. Most recently we liaised with the Department of Health to produce a resource pack for GP's as part of the "Be Clear on Cancer" campaign.
* We also proactively campaign to ensure that irrespective of where they live in the UK, patients have access to the very best treatment and care.

Beating Bowel Cancer (www.beatingbowelcancer.org)
Beating Bowel Cancer formed in 1999 (incidentally the same year my auntie Eleni passed away from bowel cancer) and has been working hard to raise awareness of the second biggest cancer killer in the UK as well as promote early diagnosis and help as many people as possible have access to the best treatments. Beating Bowel Cancer has a very clear vision – “A World Where Bowel Cancer Is Beaten” and their mission is also very clear – “Beating Bowel Cancer Together”. The charity sticks to four key values:  being supportive, being inspiring, being trustworthy and being dedicated. The charity works with individuals, communities, medical professionals and the government to improve early diagnosis rates, to improve public awareness of this cancer type.

Please do keep an eye out for the symptoms of bowel cancer. They can be seen as embarrassing but I assure you, your GP will have seen and heard far worse. Get yourself checked out should you be worried about anything you have read in this post today and check out the chartities above as they will be working very hard to raise awareness of bowel cancer.