Colorectal cancer: the importance of early detection

Colorectal cancer: the importance of early detection

September 7, 2023

Do you know that in Ireland, according to Irish Cancer Society there are approximately 2,560 new bowel cancer cases every year?

Bowel cancer is common in Ireland and early detection is important to address the problem in a better way.

What do bowels do?

Bowels, also known as the intestines, play a vital role in our digestive system. Their primary function is to process the food we eat and extract the essential nutrients our body needs to function correctly. Think of it as an internal factory that takes in food and turns it into nutrients.

To delve into their functions:

Digestion is the initial step after we consume food. It involves a series of processes aimed at breaking down the food into smaller molecules. Bowels contribute significantly to this process by utilising digestive enzymes to break down carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.

The bowel walls absorb nutrients from digested food and carry them into the bloodstream. These nutrients, encompassing vitamins, minerals, and energy-providing molecules, are indispensable for the body's growth, repair, and overall well-being.

Additionally, the bowels serve as a waste removal system. They help eliminate the components of food that the body cannot digest or absorb. Your body eventually expels this waste material in the form of stool or faeces.

Furthermore, the bowels plays a role in regulating the body's water balance. They absorb water from the waste material, contributing to maintaining proper hydration.

In essence, your bowels function as an essential food processing facility within your body. They take the food you eat, break it down, extracts valuable elements, and dispose of components that your body cannot use. This intricate process is fundamental to your overall health and well-being.

What is bowel cancer?

Bowel cancer, also called colorectal cancer, starts in the colon or rectum. Colon or rectal cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the cells lining the colon or rectum. If not detected and treated early, it can spread to other areas of the body.

Bowel cancer typically develops over a long period, often starting as small, non-cancerous growths called polyps. Over time, some of these polyps can become cancerous. Regular screening and early detection are important to find and remove polyps that could become cancerous or detect cancer early.

Risk factors

  1. Bowel cancer is more common in older people, especially those over 50. The risk increases significantly with age.
  2. Family history and genetics: if a family member has and history of colorectal cancer or certain genetic conditions, such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or Lynch syndrome (hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer), it can increase your risk of developing bowel cancer yourself.
  3. People who have had polyps or other inflammatory bowel diseases like Chron's are at higher risk of getting the disease again.
  4. Obesity: being overweight or obese increases the risk of bowel cancer.
  5. Diet: a diet high in red meats, processed food, and low in fruits, vegetables may increase the risk of bowel cancer.

Symptoms of bowel cancer

It is important to highlight that when in an early stage, bowel cancer symptoms resemble other diseases.

We recommend talking with your GP if you are experiencing any of these symptoms:

  1. Changes in bowel habits, like diarrhoea or constipation, or changes in stool consistency (e.g., narrower stools).
  2. Blood in the stool is a clear sign. When there is blood present, it can be either bright red or dark and sticky.
  3. Stomach discomfort: continuous stomach pain, spasms, or unease, particularly if it's recent or unexplained, could be a sign.
  4. Unexplained weight loss: unintentional weight loss that cannot be attributed to changes in diet or exercise should be investigated.
  5. Fatigue: persistent tiredness or weakness that is not due to other factors can be a symptom of bowel cancer.
  6. Partial bowel emptying: if you feel as though your bowels are not entirely emptied after a bowel movement, it could be a sign.

Importance of bowel cancer screening

There are several advantages in early detection of colorectal cancer, and among them we would like to highlight:

  • Improved survival rates: bowel cancer is often highly treatable when detected at an early stage. The chances of surviving cancer are much better when it is only in one place and hasn't spread. Early detection can lead to more effective treatment options, such as surgery or less aggressive forms of chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
  • Early-stage bowel cancer needs less invasive treatments, causing fewer side effects and faster recovery. In contrast, advanced-stage cancer may necessitate more aggressive treatments that can be physically and emotionally taxing.
  • Preventing cancer progression: detecting bowel cancer early can prevent its progression. When bowel cancer is in its initial stages, it is often easier to remove completely, reducing the risk of recurrence.
  • Increased quality of life: early detection can help maintain a higher quality of life for individuals diagnosed with bowel cancer. It can minimise the impact of the disease on daily activities and overall well-being.
  • Lower treatment costs: managing bowel cancer at an earlier stage tends to be less costly than treating advanced-stage cancer. Less medical procedures, shorter hospital stays, and fewer extensive treatments can save money for patients and healthcare systems.

So if you are over 50 years old, it is important to get regular screenings for bowel cancer.

We'll be at the National Ploughing Championship from September 19th to 21st. Come visit us and discover how self-sampling can help you to improve your quality of life.

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