There are over 40,000 new cases of bowel cancer every year in the UK. With the majority of cases being treatable, understanding the background causes of this disease is a fundamental part of its prevention. As with any illness, the risk of developing bowel cancer varies from person to person and is dependent on a number of genetic and lifestyle factors.
What is Bowel Cancer?
The bowel is a crucial part of the human digestive system, split into the small bowel and the large bowel. Bowel cancer occurs when cells in the bowel lining, most commonly in the large bowel, are damaged and begin to grow uncontrollably.
There is no known exact cause of bowel cancer. There are, however, a number of factors that can increase an individual’s risk of developing the disease. These include:
Bowel cancer is sadly most common in older people. In fact, approximately 90% of people with the disease are aged 60 or over. Depending on the individual, colonoscopies are recommended every few years with the first screening at age 45.
The correlation between diet and bowel cancer is uncertain. However, there are some foods that certainly increase an individual’s risk, the two most significant being red and processed meats. In addition, not getting enough fibre in your diet can also lead to further risk of colorectal cancer.
If a parent, sibling or any first degree relative suffers from bowel cancer, this puts you at a greater risk of also being diagnosed at some point in your life. This risk is unfortunately further increased if the relative was diagnosed at a young age (under 45), or if more than one relative has been diagnosed.
Existing Medical Conditions
Individuals who suffer from diabetes may have an increased risk of bowel cancer. Similarly, people with gallstones have double the risk of developing polyps in the large bowel. Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis are chronic illnesses which cause inflammation in the bowel. Over a period of years, either of these conditions can also increase bowel cancer risk.
Alcohol & Tobacco
Alcohol and Tobacco consumption increase an individual’s risk to a number of serious illnesses, bowel cancer being one of them. Cutting down or quitting either can greatly reduce one’s chances of being diagnosed with the disease.
Lack of Exercise
There is significant evidence to suggest that people who exercise regularly have a lower risk of bowel cancer. Maintaining a healthy weight and keeping physically active has a wealth of benefits, not limited to preventing cancer.
Through a better understanding of the background causes of bowel cancer, we can make safer choices which not only reduce our chances of catching the disease, but promote a happier, healthier lifestyle.
Keywords: bowel cancer, colon cancer, bowel cancer screening, colonoscopy