Colon cancer (bowel cancer, colorectal cancer) is one of the commonest cancers in men and women. Overall in the UK, 1 in 35 people will develop colon cancer and 20,000 people die from the disease each year. However, unlike many cancers, it is one of the most suitable for screening and prevention because it takes many years to develop and can be completely cured in its early phases.
However, also unlike some other cancers, detection involves tests of the bowel which, perhaps understandably, are not the kind of tests people consider having without a few second thoughts. It is estimated, for example, that a rectal examination in men (and women) over 50 years would save 10% of the deaths from colon cancer alone. Colonoscopy (endoscopic examination of the colon) is estimated to save at least half.
Specialist in this area:
Prof Jeremy Sanderson
Dr Jason Dunn
Dr Phil Berry
Colon cancer is a cancerous (malignant) growth of the lining of the colon (large intestine). Importantly, nearly all colon cancers start as tiny growths of the lining called polyps (adenomas) which are entirely benign for many years. If detected at this stage, these polyps can be safely removed avoiding progression to a cancer. Once a cancer has developed, successful treatment is much more difficult.
Age is the main risk factor for develop colon cancer with the incidence starting to rise mainly after the age of 50 years. There is, however, a familial component, such that those with a family member affected are at increased risk. This risk is really only becomes significant when a first degree relative developed the disease before the age of 50 years or if more than one relative is affected. In such cases, early screening for colon cancer is recommended. There are some syndromes which result in a very strong familial risk such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC or Lynch Syndrome) where intensive screening is recommended. For those without a family history, screening is recommended from the age of 55 years and is now routine in the UK, involving a combination of stool testing (faecal occult blood or FOB) and flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy for those with a positive FOB test. Other non-invasive tests are being evaluated.
Specialists in Colon Cancer: