About Bowel Cancer

Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK, and the second biggest cancer killer after lung cancer. Around one in eighteen of us will get bowel cancer at some point in our lives; the earlier that cancer is detected, the more effective the treatment – so greater awareness, screening and detection all play a vital part in achieving that objective.

What causes bowel cancer?

A diet high in natural fibre will help maintain a healthy gut.

Natural dietary fibre helps maintain a healthy gut.

Bowel cancer is sometimes linked to a diet that is high in red meat (in particular processed meats such as ham, sausages etc) and low in naturally occurring roughage. So to maintain a healthy gut and increase your chances of avoiding bowel cancer you should restrict your intake of red meat and eat plenty of whole cereals (brown bread, brown rice etc), fresh fruit and vegetables.

Sometimes bowel cancer is caused by the genes you inherit, so if someone in your immediate family has had bowel cancer –particularly if it occurred at a young age – then you should be screened regularly. Find out more about taking part in the GUTS screening programme.

Bowel cancer is most likely to occur when people are in their sixties and seventies and some time after your 60th birthday you will be invited to take part in the national screening programme – don’t ignore it! It’s estimated that if just 60% of
those invited took part, then over a 10-year period the bowel cancer death rate would be cut by around 20%.
As well as detecting actual cancers, screening reveals polyps that can potentially develop into cancer – these can be
easily removed with a non-surgical procedure.


Who’s at risk?

It’s not known exactly what causes bowel cancer, but there are a number of things that can increase your risk, including:

AGE – almost 90% of bowel cancer occur in people aged 60 or over

DIET – a diet high in red and processed meat and low in fibre can increase risk

WEIGHT – bowel cancer is more common in those who are overweight or obese

INACTIVITY – being inactive increases your risk 

ALCOHOL AND SMOKING – both may increase the risk of bowel cancer

FAMILY HISTORY – having an immediate relative (parent or sibling) who developed bowel cancer under the age of 50 puts you at a greater lifetime risk.

Some people have an increased risk of bowel cancer because they have another condition that affects their bowel, such as severe ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, over a long period of time.


Read more about the causes of bowel cancer and preventing bowel cancer.

Download more information                 GUT INSTINCT: Bowel cancer symptoms           GUT INSTINCT: Reducing your risk                  

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