what-is-cancerThere have been recent reports in the news that regular cups of coffee can increase the chances of surviving bowel cancer. A study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, is the first to link caffeine to a reduced risk of bowel cancer recurrence.

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in the US conducted a study of nearly 1000 treated patients and found that those who consumed several cups of coffee a day were 42% less likelyto see their cancer return than non-coffee drinkers.

With this in mind, we have been speaking to Mr Mark George, Consultant Colorectal and General Surgeon at London Bridge Hospital with a view to understanding the condition and highlighting the lifestyle factors that are associated with the condition.

How is bowel cancer normally diagnosed? Bowel cancer is normally diagnosed by performing a colonoscopy (a camera inspection of the bowel) or CT cologram (virtual colonoscopy).

How does the screening process work? In England, all men and women between 60-69 are sent a stool testing kit (faecal occult blood test) every 2 years. This is designed to detect tiny amounts of blood within the stool. If an abnormal result is found, the test is repeated and if it is still abnormal then a colonoscopy is offered.

What are the main symptoms of bowel cancer? Bleeding from the rectum is a key symptom of bowel cancer, particularly if the blood is dark: this represents a more worrying picture than bright blood. Any change in bowel habits can also suggest an increased risk, so it is important to be aware of any change in either the frequency or the consistency of the motions. It is natural for bowel habits to vary from time to time, but increasing bowel frequency for longer than 4-6 weeks in particular should be discussed with a doctor.

Coliky abdominal pain is also a symptom of bowel cancer, especially if it persists and has an affect on your appetite. As bowel tumours can cause bleeding, cancer of the bowel often causes a shortage of red blood cells, resulting in anaemia. This is most likely to be recognised by tiredness and occasionally breathlessness.

Are there any lifestyle factors that are commonly associated with bowel cancer? The incidence of bowel cancer is highest in populations with a ‘westernised’ diet, which in turn is more associated with obesity and lack of exercise. Red and processed meats within the diet are associated with increased rates of bowel cancer, but fibre and particularly whole grain, reduces the risk of bowel cancer.

What are your top five tips for reducing your chance of developing bowel cancer?

  • Have a good high in fibre diet
  • Regular exercise
  • Do not consume too much red or processed meat
  • Avoid getting overweight and  watch what you eat
  • Participate in a bowel cancer screening programme.