Being at risk of bowel cancer is not the same thing as having the disease but it can be helpful to be aware of your risk level so you can take proactive steps to protect yourself, wherever possible.
So, who is most at risk and if you are in a high-risk category is there anything you can do to look after your health and prevent the development of the condition?
Family history of bowel cancer
If you have a first-degree relative – parent, sibling, son or daughter – with bowel cancer you are more likely to develop the disease yourself. The risk is increased if they are diagnosed at a young age or if more than one close relative develops the disease.
You should talk to your GP if you have a family history of bowel cancer as you will need to be monitored for early signs of the disease.
Inherited health conditions
Inherited genetic changes are, thankfully, rare but can lead to health conditions that dramatically increase your risk of bowel cancer. If you have any of the following your chances of developing bowel cancer are very high and you will need to take preventative action:
- Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) – This inherited condition accounts for fewer than 1% of all cases of bowel cancer. People with FAP are generally advised to undergo bowel surgery in their 20s to remove the colon. Left untreated, people with FAP are almost certain to develop bowel cancer by the time they are in their 40s.
- Lynch syndrome and hereditary non polyposis colon cancer also carry a high risk of developing bowel cancer.
Other medical conditions
Among the other medical conditions that heighten your chances of bowel cancer are:
- Inflammatory bowel diseases – ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are conditions that lead to inflammation of the bowel. Having these conditions for an extended period of time can increase your risk of bowel cancer and you will normally be invited for regular screening.
- Diabetes can be linked to an increased risk of bowel cancer although scientists are not sure why this is.
- Acromegaly leads to the overgrowth of bones due to pituitary gland malfunction. People with the condition can go on to develop bowel cancer.
Other factors affecting bowel cancer
Bowel cancer is increasingly common as we age. People over the age of 50 are most at risk although it can affect people of any age. After the age of 60, routine bowel cancer screening is offered on the NHS but between 50 and 60 you may wish to consider private screening.
Obesity and lack of exercise increases the risk of developing bowel cancer and can also result in a poorer outcome for patients undergoing treatment for cancer.
A low fibre and high fat ‘Western’ diet has been shown in population studies to increase the risk of developing bowel cancer. Consuming large amounts of certain foods such as processed and red meat are also linked to developing bowel cancer.
Approximately 7% of all bowel cancers are associated with smoking and the risk goes up with the number of cigarettes smoked.
Six in every 100 bowel cancer cases (6%) are estimated to be linked to excessive alcohol consumption.
Having a personal history of large ‘adenomatous ‘polyps increases the risk of bowel cancer by 2.5 times and surveillance is usually advised to prevent this occurring and remove polyps before they turn malignant.
Managing the risk
It is not always possible to reduce your bowel cancer risk if the cause is genetic. However there are some positive steps you can take to manage the risk:
- Genetic testing can determine if you carry the genetic mutation that is linked to bowel cancer.
- Lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of bowel cancer, including cutting down on red and processed meat. Government recommendations advise eating no more than 70g of this type of meat per day (equivalent to two sausages). You should also increase your fibre intake (by eating brown rice and pasta, wholemeal bread, fresh fruit and vegetables) and cut back on alcohol.
- Regular bowel cancer screening can detect the disease while it is in its earliest stages and most treatable. It may also be able to prevent the disease by removing polyps which can become cancerous. A colonoscopy is the most effective way of screening for bowel cancer.
Bowel Cancer Screening | Windsor – Berkshire
The consultants at Windsor Bowel Clinic are specialists in bowel cancer screening.
We use the latest techniques including the most comprehensive diagnostic test, the colonoscopy, to assess for any early signs of cancer.
Our Consultation Fees are clearly presented here.
To book your consultation, simply contact our team who will be able to find a suitable appointment date and time.