Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, MD, FFARCSI

What is Bowel Cancer?

The development of malignant tumors in the large bowel is referred to as Bowel Cancer. The large bowel contains rectum and the colon. The cancerous tumors in Bowel Cancer develop in either of these regions. In extremely rare cases, malignancy develops in the small bowel and is referred to as Small Bowel Cancer. The tumors in Bowel Cancer develop in the bowel mucosa. Bowel Cancer is a slowly progressing disease and it takes about a decade for growth within the colon and rectum to become malignant. This is the reason why physicians all over the world ask individuals above the age of 50 to get regular checkups to identify any growths within the colon and remove them if present to prevent any malignancy from occurring.

What is Bowel Cancer?

The Initial phase of Bowel cancer is completely asymptomatic and symptoms can only be observed when the disease advances and starts spreading to other parts of the body. When this happens, it is an emergent medical condition and requires immediate treatment.

Surgery is the frontline treatment for Bowel Cancer. This is done to remove the tumor in its entirety. This is then followed by a round of chemotherapy and then radiation. Targeted therapy with monoclonal antibodies is the new and effective way to treat Bowel Cancer. This is either used as a single medication or in conjunction with chemotherapy medicines.

If Bowel Cancer is not diagnosed at the appropriate time then it has the potential to spread extremely quickly to other parts of the body including vital organs like the lungs and the liver. This makes treatment that much more complicated and affects the overall prognosis of the individual. This article highlights as to the different ways to diagnose Bowel Cancer and the overall survival rate of individuals battling with this disease condition.

How is Bowel Cancer Diagnosed?

If an individual is at risk for developing Bowel Cancer then it is must to get it diagnosed in its early stages. This is done by conducting various tests and investigations.

Before embarking on any further investigations, the physician will first take a detailed history of the patient. The physician will ask the patient about any prior history of colon or rectal conditions.

The physician will also ask about any family history of colon or rectal cancers. A thorough physical examination will then be performed looking for any lumps or bumps around the anal region which would point towards a colorectal cancer. Once the physical examination is done, the patient will have to undergo the following tests.

Colonoscopy. This is the first and the most preferred test to identify any polyps present in the colon. In this test, a flexible colonoscope is inserted into the colon through the rectum. A detailed exploration of the colon is them performed. This test will show any polyps if present in the colon.

If these are seen then they can also be removed at the time of the examination by colonoscope. However, only small tumors can be removed through this method. For larger tumors a detailed surgery will have to be performed.

Sigmoidoscopy. This test is done to view the rectum looking for any tumors. In this test, a flexible sigmoidoscope is inserted through the rectum and the entire area is viewed. Any tumors present in the area can be seen through this method.

Virtual Colonoscopy. If an individual is not deemed to be a candidate for a colonoscopy then this imaging test is done. In this test, a thin tube is inserted into the large bowel through the rectum and air is filled within the bowel. Then a CT or MRI is done of the area. Any tumors or polyps present in the colon can be viewed easily through this test.

Radiographic Studies. This test is done to see whether the cancer has spread to other area of the body like the liver or the lungs.

Blood Analysis. This is done to identify the presence of anemia which is seen in most patients with Bowel Cancer as they tend to lose a lot of blood due to rectal bleeding. All these tests will give a confirmed diagnosis of Bowel cancer.

What is the Survival Rate in Bowel Cancer?

Survival rate of an individual with a serious disease condition is defined as an approximate amount of time an individual can survive since being diagnosed with the condition. This is especially important for people with serious medical conditions like cancer. It does not give the time that the patient will live with the condition but will give a percentage of the success rate of a particular treatment.

The five year survival rate is the gold standard for conditions like Bowel Cancer. This gives a percentage of people who have survived over a 5 year period post diagnosis of the condition. The 5 year survival rate of individuals with Bowel Cancer depends on the time of diagnosis, how much the treatment has been effective, the stage of the cancer, and the overall health status of the individual.

In cases of Bowel Cancer, if the cancer is diagnosed in the colon and it has not spread to any other part then the survival rate is approximately 90%. This comes down to 70% when the cancer has spread to the adjacent tissues in and around the colon. In case if the cancer has spread to other organs of the body then the 5 year survival rate comes down drastically to 40%.

Similarly if the bowel cancer is diagnosed in the rectum then the 5 year survival rate for a localized bowel cancer is about 90%. This comes down to 60% if the cancer has spread locally to other tissues surrounding the rectum. However, unlike colon cancer, the 5 year survival rate for people with rectal cancer which has spread to other parts of the body is extremely poor at 10%.

In summary, bowel cancer is presence of a malignant tumor anywhere in the colon or the rectum. It is also known by the name of colorectal cancer. This condition is mostly caused by colon polyps which are benign overgrowths that normally are seen in the colon in people above the age of 50.

Bowel Cancer is completely asymptomatic during the initial phases of the condition and symptoms only develop when the cancer has advanced or has spread to other parts of the body. The 5 year survival rate of individuals with Bowel Cancer is quite good when the condition is identified and treated early.

However if the cancer spreads to other parts of the body then it comes drastically down to approximately 15%. Thus it is recommended for individuals above the age of 50 to get regular colon screenings to detect the presence of polyps and if present they should be removed immediately to prevent the tumors from being formed.

Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: March 8, 2019

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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