Bowel Cancer


Bowel cancer is one of the most common cancers in Ireland. There are about 2,935 new cases every year.  It is the second most deadly cancer in Ireland, though if caught early, bowel cancer is very treatable.

You’re also at increased risk if you have a family history of the disease, smoke, drink, eat fatty, processed foods that are low in fibre, are overweight and don’t exercise.

What are the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer?

toiletThere are a few things you can look out for that might be a signs or symptoms of bowel cancer:

  • Blood in your stools (poo) – the blood may be bright red or dark in colour.
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • A change in normal bowel habits lasting longer than six weeks, especially if your stool becomes runny or loose
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Pain in your stomach area or rectum (back passage).
  • A feeling of not having emptied your bowel properly after having gone for a poo

It’s important to note that other diseases apart from bowel cancer can cause all of the above symptoms. However, if you experience any of these symptoms make an appointment with your GP to get checked out.

What are bowel or colon polyps? Do polyps cause bowel cancer?

Growths in the bowel, called polyps or adenomas, are not cancerous. But they can develop into cancer over a long period of time. In fact, most bowel cancers develop from a polyp. Bowl polyps are quite common but only a small fraction of bowl polyps develop into cancer and it takes years to happen. If you think you have a polyp, see your GP without delay.

Most polyps are found in the colon so you may not ever know you have one. They are more common in older people.  If they are located in the lining of the back passage, the polyp can cause symptoms such as bleeding from the back passage or mucus mixed with stool or, more rarely, diarrhoea or constipation.  If you have any of these symptoms or think you have a polyp, see your GP without delay.

The free, national BowelScreen programme aims to find and remove polyps in the general population before they become cancerous. Because you may not know you have a polyp, if you are invited to, it is important to take part in the screening programme even if you feel totally well.

Is there bowel cancer screening in Ireland?

Yes. BowelScreen – The National Bowel Screening Programme offers free home test kits to women and men in Ireland aged 60 to 69 every two years.

BowelScreen will send an invitation to men and women in Ireland aged 60 to 69. As the risk of bowel cancer increases with age, by taking part in the programme every two years, it is more likely that if bowel cancer occurs it will be found at an early stage when there is a much better chance of treating it successfully.

If you are aged between 60 to 69 years and living in Ireland, you can ring BowelScreen on Freephone 1800 45 45 55 to check your details are on the register.

How can I reduce my risk of bowel cancer?

Yes, there are some simple steps that you can take to improve your bowel health that may help to reduce your risk of developing bowel cancer. Try to eat:

  • More fibres from cereals, beans, fruit and vegetables.
  • Less fat including fatty meats and dairy foods.
  • More poultry such as chicken and turkey, and fewer portions of red meat.
  • Less cured and processed meat like bacon, sausages and ham.
  • More oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, tuna and sardines.
  • Less sugary and fatty processed foods such as cakes, biscuits and chocolate.

It might also reduce your risk of bowel cancer if you:

  • Get at least 30 minutes of exercise five times a week. Try going for a jog, playing five-a-side or cycling or walking to work.
  • Keep a healthy weight.
  • Drink less alcohol. The less alcohol you drink, the lower the risk of bowel cancer and many other cancers and diseases.
  • Don’t smoke. If you smoke, quit. To speak to an advisor, call the HSE Quit Team on Freephone 1800 201 203 or FREETEXT QUIT to 50100.

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