It’s important to know that many of the symptoms of bowel cancer do not necessarily mean that you have bowel cancer – they could also be other conditions.
But, if you are experiencing any one of the following symptoms, you should arrange to see your GP as soon as possible.
- Bleeding from your anus and/or blood in your poo
- Changes in your bowel movements that last for 3 weeks or more, especially if there is loose or runny poo
- Unexplained weight loss or extreme tiredness
- Pain or lumps felt in your tummy.
If the symptoms do indicate bowel cancer, remember that early detection can make a big difference. Over 90% of people who are diagnosed in the early stages of the disease are successfully treated.
The stages and grades of bowel cancer
When you’re diagnosed with bowel cancer, your doctor will tell you the stage of your cancer.
What cancer stages mean
The stage of a cancer simply means how big it is and whether or not it has spread. When your bowel cancer is diagnosed, the tests and scans you have will give you some information about the stage of your cancer.
Defining the stage of your cancer is important to determine what type of treatment you will have.
Tumour, Node and Metastasis stages of bowel cancer
The Tumour, Node, Metastasis (TNM) stages of bowel cancer refers to the size of a primary tumour (T stages), whether any lymph nodes contain cancer cells (N stages), and whether the cancer has spread to another part of the body, which is called metastasis (M stages).
Tumour size stages (T)
There are 4 stages of tumour size in bowel cancer:
- T1 – the tumour is only in the inner layer of the bowel
- T2 – the tumour has grown into the muscle layer of the bowel wall
- T3 – the tumour has grown into the outer lining of the bowel wall
- T4 – the tumour has grown through the outer lining of the bowel wall.
Lymph node stages (N)
There are 3 stages that describe cancer cells in the lymph nodes:
- N0 – there are no lymph nodes containing cancer cells
- N1 – 1 to 3 lymph nodes close to the bowel contain cancer cells
- N2 – there are cancer cells in 4 or more nearby lymph nodes
Metastasis stages (M)
There are 2 stages of cancer spread (metastasis):
- M0 – the cancer has not spread to other organs
- M1 – the cancer has spread to other parts of the body
Number stages of bowel cancer
The number system uses the TNM stages to group bowel cancers. There are 5 main stages in this system.
When you’re diagnosed with bowel cancer, your consultant bowel surgeon will tell you what stage cancer you have. This describes the size of the tumour, and whether it’s spread to any other part of your body.
- Stage 0 or carcinoma in situ (CIS)
Stage 0 or CIS colorectal cancer means there are cancer cells just within your inner bowel lining, so there is little risk of any cancer cells having spread.
- Stage 1
Cancer cells have grown through the inner lining of the bowel, or into the muscle wall, but no further. There is no cancer in the lymph nodes (T1, N0, M0 or T2, N0, M0)
- Stage 2
This stage is divided into 2a and 2b
The cancer has grown into the outer covering of the bowel wall, but there are no cancer cells in the lymph nodes (T3, N0, M0)
The cancer has grown through the outer covering of the bowel wall and into tissues or organs next to the bowel (T4). No lymph nodes are affected (N0) and the cancer has not spread to another area of the body (M0).
- Stage 3
Stage 3 is divided into 3 stages
The cancer is still in the inner layer of the bowel wall or has grown into the muscle layer, and between 1 and 3 nearby lymph nodes contain cancer cells (T1, N1, M0 or T2, N1, M0)
The cancer has grown into the outer lining of the bowel wall or into surrounding body tissues or organs, and between 1 and 3 nearby lymph nodes contain cancer cells (T3, N1, M0 or T4, N1, M0)
The cancer can be any size, has spread to 4 or more nearby lymph nodes, but there is no cancer spread to any other part of the body (any T, N2, M0)
- Stage 4
This means your cancer has spread to other parts of the body (such as the liver or lungs) through the lymphatic system or bloodstream (any T, any N, M1).
BMI Healthcare bowel screening clinics
Regular bowel cancer screening has been shown to reduce the risk of dying from bowel cancer by 16% [xi].
At BMI Healthcare, we offer specialised bowel screening at our clinics across the country. Because our specialists are highly experienced, you’ll get expert advice and excellent care.
There are a number of screening options. These are reviewed on a personal patient-by-patient basis through a personal discussion with a specialist consultant. Examples of screening methods are:
- Stool testing
- Virtual colonography (CT Scan).
The age at which screening should start depends largely on family history and the number and age of affected relatives.
What are the benefits of bowel cancer screening?
Screening for early bowel cancer can increase the survival of patients. Several international guidelines state that regular colonoscopies should begin at age 50 for people at average risk of colon cancer.
BMI Healthcare welcome referrals of people who wish to be screened, this includes adults who are at an increased risk – for example, those with a strong family history of bowel cancer, or people over 50 years of age. At point of screening, your specialist nurse or consultant will decide which screening method is most appropriate.
What to do next
If you’re 60 to 69, you fall into the age range for the NHS bowel cancer stool testing kit, which you’ll get in the post every two years. Over 55s are also starting to be invited for a bowel scope screening, which looks at your lower bowel and rectum. If you fall into these age ranges, you should accept bowel cancer screening invitations.
If any of the following apply to you, you can contact one of our bowel cancer screening clinics to talk about your concerns:
- If you’re worried about bowel cancer but not eligible for the NHS screening programme
- If you have a strong family history of bowel cancer or polyps
- If you’re worried about any other abdominal or bowel problems
We will make sure you are seen as quickly as possible to talk through the best screening and treatment options for you.
Paying for your treatment
You have two options to pay for your treatment – your costs may be covered by your private medical insurance, or you can pay for yourself.
If you visit a BMI clinic for bowel cancer screening, please check with your private medical insurer to see if your diagnostic costs are covered under your medical insurance policy.
If you are paying for your own bowel cancer treatment the cost of the procedure will be explained and confirmed in writing at time of booking.
Ask the hospital for a quote beforehand, and ensure that this includes the consultants' fees and the hospital charge.
[xi] Cancer Research UK, Types of bowel cancerCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2006. Screening for colorectal cancer using the faecal occult blood test: an update