Beating bowel cancer together

Bowel cancer

Bowel cancer starts in the large bowel. It can also be called colorectal cancer. You can find out more on this page about what bowel cancer is and how we can help support you through diagnosis, treatment and beyond.

The bowel is part of the digestive system. It is made up of the small bowel and the large bowel. The large bowel is made up of the colon and rectum.

Cancer that affects the large bowel is typically called bowel cancer. You may also hear it being called colorectal cancer, colon cancer or rectum cancer, depending on where it is found.

The earlier bowel cancer is spotted, the more treatable it’s likely to be.

Cancer that affects the small bowel is called small bowel cancer. For information and support about small bowel cancer, please visit Macmillan or Cancer Research UK’s website.

Cancer that affects the anus is called anal cancer. Read more about anal cancer.

A graphic of a human with the digestive system highlighted in shades of teal. Labels point to the stomach, small bowel, colon, rectum and anus. The colon and rectum are together labelled as the large bowel

What is bowel cancer?

In your body cells normally divide and grow in a controlled way. When cancer develops, the cells change and can grow in an uncontrolled way.

Most bowel cancers develop from polyps. Polyps are non-cancerous growths that might develop into cancer. Not all polyps develop into cancer. If your doctor finds any polyps, they can remove them to lower the risk of bowel cancer.

Cancer cells may stay in the bowel or they might spread to other parts of the body, such as the liver or lungs.

How do I know if I have bowel cancer?

Bowel cancer can affect anyone, whatever your age, gender, ethnicity or where you live. If you have symptoms, ask your GP about an at-home test.

Bowel screening helps spot bowel cancer before symptoms start, when it’s more treatable. A screening kit will be sent to you in the post if you’re within the age range for screening and are registered with a GP.

If you have symptoms, you don’t need to wait for a screening test. Ask your GP about an at-home test.

Facts and figures about bowel cancer 

Your GP or healthcare team can tell you more about your individual situation and how these statistics may affect you.

How common is bowel cancer?

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK.  Almost 43,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK.

Around 268,000 people living in the UK today have been diagnosed with bowel cancer.

More than nine out of ten new cases (94%) are diagnosed in people over the age of 50. But bowel cancer can affect anyone of any age. More than 2,600 new cases are diagnosed in people under the age of 50 every year.

1 in 15 men and 1 in 18 women will be diagnosed with bowel cancer during their lifetime.

How many people survive bowel cancer?

Bowel cancer is treatable and curable especially if diagnosed early. Nearly everyone survives bowel cancer if diagnosed at the earliest stage. However this drops significantly as the disease develops. Early diagnosis saves lives. 

More than 16,800 people die from bowel cancer in the UK every year. But the number of people dying of bowel cancer has been falling since the 1970s. This is due to earlier diagnosis, better treatment options and the start of the national bowel cancer screening programme.

Bowel cancer is most common in people over 50. But younger people can still get bowel cancer. If you have symptoms at any age you should ask your GP about an at-home test.

 

Page reviewed: May 2024

Find out more about the symptoms of bowel cancer

Find out more about talking to your GP

Find out more about at-home tests

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Your support helps save lives. Donate now and help us ensure a future where nobody dies of bowel cancer.

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