Learning About Bowel Cancer
- Tony Tyler, 62, was diagnosed with bowel cancer after nothing thinking too much about his initial symptom of bloating.
- The term bowel cancer is used to describe a cancer that starts in the large bowel which includes the colon, rectum and anus. In the United States, we more commonly refer to this type of cancer as colorectal cancer.
- Bowel cancer can affect both men and women at any age, and it’s important to note that the patient population is shifting younger. So, you should talk to your doctor about what screening should look like for you and always address any possible symptoms.
- According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), people with colorectal cancer may develop one or more of the following signs or symptoms: a change in your bowel habits; diarrhea, constipation or feeling like your bowel is not completely emptying; bright red or very dark blood in the stool (feces); stools that appear narrower or thinner than usual; abdominal discomfort; unexplained weight loss; persistent fatigue or tiredness; and unexplained iron-deficiency anemia.
Tyler’s first symptom of bowel cancer arrived in October 2021 when he started feeling more bloated than usual. But he thought the only symptom of bowel cancer was bloody stool. While he had noticed an “occasional spot” of blood, he didn’t think much of it because he could easily blame it on hemorrhoids.Read More
"I was a very fit person that had a reasonable diet and you do tend to assume it can't happen to you, well I do think I'm living evidence that it can happen to anybody," the grandfather said.
"From a personal point of view, I can't help but think, had I gone and got a check a little bit earlier, would I only have been at stage 2?"
Speaking Up About Your Health
For treatment, he needed to have a part of his colon removed, along with a number of lymph nodes, followed by six months of chemotherapy.
Tyler would not consider himself an “overly emotional person,” but chemo did take an emotional toll. After his first round, he unsuspectingly “burst into tears.”
Thankfully, he had his young grandson to motivate him to keep fighting.
“In April, my first grandson was born so that's helped to keep me going all the way through,” he said.
"Having chemotherapy is never going to be fun, but being able to have it at home was great as it allowed me to carry on working and I was in the comfort of my home environment."
Today, he’s on the other side of treatment after receiving an all-clear in September 2022. Still, he’s continued to talk about the disease in the hopes of educating others about the signs of the disease.
"It's one of those things that sometimes people are not inclined to talk about, and it's like with mental health, I think people should talk more about it because I think that awareness is critical," he said.
Learning About Bowel Cancer
The term bowel cancer is used to describe cancer that starts in the large bowel, which includes the colon, rectum and anus. In the United States, we more commonly refer to this type of cancer as colorectal cancer or colon cancer and rectal cancer, depending on the exact location of the disease.
Bowel cancer can affect both men and women at any age, but the average age at the time of diagnosis for colon cancer in men is 68 and the average age for women is 72. Both men and women have an average age of 63 for rectal cancer.
Though the disease tends to be diagnosed in older adults, it’s important to note that the patient population of colorectal cancer is shifting younger with a recent report in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians saying "one in five new cases" are now occurring in people in their early 50s or younger.
Someone with bowel cancer may or may not have symptoms. But signs of the disease to look out for include the following, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO):
- A change in your bowel habits
- Diarrhea, constipation or feeling like your bowel is not completely emptying
- Bright red or very dark blood in the stool (feces)
- Stools that appear narrower or thinner than usual
- Abdominal discomfort such as frequent gas pains, bloating (like what Tony Tyler experienced), fullness and cramps
- Unexplained weight loss
- Persistent fatigue or tiredness
- Unexplained iron-deficiency anemia a type of anemia that occurs when you do not have enough iron in your body
If you ever develop any of the above symptoms, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor. You should also be sure to talk with your doctor about what colorectal cancer screening should look like for you because recommendations vary based on your individual risk level.
Bowel cancer treatment varies greatly from person to person. Options include:
When it comes to deciding where you should receive treatment, you’ll have to do some research. Not everyone is able to go to a designated comprehensive cancer center, but data shows these centers are extremely helpful for any cancer particularly when your case is complex.
“I do think it’s really important, particularly for colorectal cancer, to be at a multidisciplinary center,” colorectal surgeon Dr. Heather Yeo told SurvivorNet.
“I work very closely with medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, radiologists, pathologists, and we meet every week to talk about all of the patients.
“While colon cancer has standard courses and standard treatments, there are new drugs and new trials coming out all the time. And so it’s really important for each patient that you have a discussion as to, OK, here’s how we’re going to treat them.”
There are excellent physicians both in and out of comprehensive cancer centers, but you need to make sure you’re being treated by the right people who know the latest science.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
Below are some questions you can ask when looking into care:
- Am I getting doctors with different specialties like medical oncology, radiation oncology, surgery, pathology and radiology?
- What is the standard of care? Do you recommend that for me?
- What do we know about the features of my particular cancer?
- What if my cancer comes back?
- Am I a candidate for a clinical trial?