Free shipping for orders over £40.                                                                                                                Save 15% on your first order with code WELCOME
Incontinence Advice

Living With Bowel Cancer: Treatments For Bowel Cancer

Living with bowel cancer before, during, and after treatment presents many challenges and concerns, for individuals trying to adjust to life again…

Understanding how to treat bowel cancer effectively, recognising symptoms of advanced stages, and knowing where bowel cancer can spread are crucial towards how you can live and cope with bowel cancer. This article aims to provide expert insights into the treatments for bowel cancer, offering guidance and support for those affected by this condition.

Newsletter subscription - HARTMANN Direct

cancer patient hugging another person

Symptoms of Bowel Cancer

Symptoms can vary depending on the development of bowel cancer. Here is how they can easily recognised:

Early Symptoms of Bowel Cancer

Early detection is key to successfully treating any type of cancer. 

Some of the most common symptoms of bowel cancer that may start occurring at an early stage may include:

  • Blood in your faeces

  • Changes in bowel habits, such as more frequent stools

  • Abdominal pain in the stomach or lump in your stomach

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Unexpected extreme tiredness

It's important to know that most people with these symptoms don't have bowel cancer. Other health problems can cause similar symptoms. Ensure to visit your GP for any irregularities.

Late Symptoms of Bowel Cancer

When bowel cancer reaches stage four, it may have spread to other parts of the body, e.g., Lymph Nodes. If this occurs you will be diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer. 

During this late stage, you may experience different symptoms if it has spread. Here are some of the symptoms you may experience if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes:

  • Loss of appetite

  • Feeling fatigue

  • Low energy levels

Symptoms of Bowel Cancer Spreading To Your Lungs

  • A persistent cough

  • Breathlessness

  • Coughing up blood

  • Chest infections

  • Fluid between the chest wall and lung

Symptoms of Bowel Cancer Spreading To Your Liver

  • A persistent cough

  • Loss of appetite

  • Weight loss

  • Swollen abdomen

  • Itchy skin

  • Nausea

  • Abdomen pain

Symptoms of Bowel Cancer Spreading To Your Bones 

  • Bone pain

  • Weakened bone/s

  • Tiredness

  • Nausea

  • Confusion

Ensure to visit your doctor if you have recently experienced one or more of these symptoms. Acting promptly can provide an earlier diagnosis and prevent delay in treatment.



Stages Of Bowel Cancer

Bowel cancer has 5 different stages - the higher the number, the more severe the cancer is.

  • Stage 0 - Also known as CIS, stage 0 means you have an early stage of bowel cancer. Cancer cells may be present in your bowel lining, but they are well contained. There is little chance of the cells spreading at this stage.

  • Stage 1 - At the first stage, the cancer cells have grown through the inner lining of your bowel, or into the wall of muscle. It has not yet reached distant body parts or lymph nodes.

  • Stage 2 - By this stage, the cancer has spread into the tissues or organs next to the bowel, or the outer wall of the bowel. It has still not reached any distant body parts or lymph nodes.

  • Stage 3 - At stage three, the cancer has spread to the nearby lymph nodes, but not other distant body parts.

  • Stage 4 - By this last stage, the cancer has spread to distant body parts, such as the lungs or liver [advanced bowel cancer]

Another early symptom towards this form of cancer is bowel incontinence. Learn what this condition is in our in-depth guide.

Living With Bowel Cancer

There are a multitude of factors to manage when living with bowel cancer, and what treatments are available. 

Emotional Impact

These feelings (shock, denial, fear and anger) can be overwhelming, especially soon after diagnosis. It's essential to acknowledge these emotions and seek support, whether through counselling, support groups, or conversations with loved ones. 

Addressing the emotional aspect of bowel cancer is as crucial as managing the physical symptoms, especially when dealing with the uncertainties of terminal bowel cancer and contemplating life after recovery.

Who Is Most At Risk?

Bowel cancer doesn't have a single cause, but several risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing it. 

  • Age is a significant factor, with a higher incidence in those over 60. 

  • Lifestyle choices, such as a diet rich in red or processed meats, limited physical activity, excessive alcohol consumption, and smoking, also contribute to the risk. 

  • A family history of bowel cancer and certain chronic conditions like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis can elevate the risk. 

Recognising these factors is vital for early detection and prevention.

Long Term Effects

Bowel cancer treatment can lead to long-term and late side effects, which vary among those affected. Some common long-term impacts include fatigue, changes in bowel and bladder function, and sexual health issues. Hernias can also occur, especially after abdominal surgery, presented as a bulge or pain in the affected area.

Nerve Damage

Chemotherapy, particularly with drugs like oxaliplatin, can lead to neuropathy, affecting nerve endings in the hands, feet, and lower legs. 

Symptoms like tingling, weakness, or numbness can make daily activities challenging. This condition may persist for months or even years after treatment, necessitating adjustments in lifestyle or treatment protocols. Patients experiencing severe neuropathy may need a medication dosage adjustment or a change in their treatment regimen to alleviate symptoms.

Bladder Function

Bowel cancer surgery can impact bladder nerves, leading to difficulties in bladder emptying and potential urine leakage. Radiation therapy might also exacerbate bladder irritation, causing frequent or urgent needs to urinate.

Treatment Available With Healthcare Professionals

When undergoing treatment, you will likely come across the following methods:

Creating a Survivorship Care Plan

This plan outlines the schedule for future tests, identifies potential long-term side effects of treatments, and offers lifestyle recommendations to improve quality of life.

Consistent Checkups

Regular checkups can help to manage and monitor the long-term effects of bowel cancer treatment. The frequency of them can depend on the cancer stage at diagnosis and the overall treatment outcomes. If, after treatment, there are no signs of cancer, doctors may request a test every 3-6 months for the first few years, and then lowered to every 6 months in the preceding years.


Regular screenings such as colonoscopies will be introduced for regular treatment. Typically, a colonoscopy is recommended approximately one-year post-surgery, with subsequent screenings every three to five years, depending on initial results. For those treated for rectal cancer, proctoscopy might be necessary at more frequent intervals to monitor the site of the tumour closely.

CT Scans and Blood Tests

Imaging tests like CT scans are often scheduled at regular intervals, especially for those with a higher risk of recurrence, to monitor for any signs of bowel cancer spreading or returning. 

Additionally, monitoring tumour markers in the blood, such as carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA), can provide early indications of recurrence. 


Maintaining medical records is an essential aspect of managing life post-bowel cancer treatment. These records help in keeping track of the treatment history and are vital for any future medical consultations. 


doctor testing a patients blood pressure

Bowel Changes After Treatment

The treatments listed above can make an impact on the functioning of the bowels. This can include alterations in frequency, urgency, and the ability to control bowel movements. These changes, influenced by the type and extent of treatment, can affect quality of life but are usually manageable with medical guidance and lifestyle adjustments.

How You Feel:

Post-treatment bowel changes may include:


  • Urgent or unforeseen needs to defecate or pass gas

  • Experiencing bloating and gas

  • Incontinence or lack of control over bowel movements

  • Challenges in completely evacuating the bowels

  • Persistent urges to defecate

  • Irritation or discomfort around the anal area

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, we recommend MoliCare® Premium Form Stool if you’re experiencing full bowel emptying, or for faecal smearing, try MoliCare® Rectangular pads.

Skin Care:

Prioritising skin care is essential for improving physical body quality. Frequent bowel movements can irritate the skin, necessitating gentle care:

  • Use soft toilet paper and pat dry gently.

  • Cleanse with lukewarm water and mild soaps; avoid scented or medicated products.

  • Dry the area carefully, using a soft towel or a cool hair dryer setting.

  • Opt for loose, soft clothing to reduce skin irritation. Use MoliCare skin barrier cream to soothe the affected area from irritation.

Toiletry Habits:

  • Limit time spent straining on the toilet.

  • Respond promptly to the urge to defecate to avoid discomfort.

Pelvic Floor:

Regular exercises can fortify muscles critical for bowel control and reduce leakages. We have useful guides on Kegel exercises for men, and strengthening the pelvic floor for women to follow here.


It's not always about medical practices - you can implement lifestyle changes at home to lessen the effects of bowel cancer:


Maintaining a balanced diet is crucial for those living with or after bowel cancer:

Lifestyle Adjustments

  • Avoid alcohol and smoking to reduce the risk of recurrence.

  • Regular exercise can aid in recovery and improve quality of life.

  • Consult with healthcare providers before starting any new dietary supplements or medications like aspirin, which may impact cancer recurrence risk.

Adjust To Life After Bowel Cancer

In conclusion, navigating life with bowel cancer, from early detection to managing terminal stages, requires timely treatment, symptom management, and supportive care. Healthy lifestyle choices, regular monitoring, and emotional support can aid quality of life too. Embracing these strategies can help those with bowel cancer lead more fulfilling lives, despite the challenges posed by the disease and its treatments.

For further information, you can consult with these bowel cancer charities:

cancer patient drinking water


Can you live a long life with bowel cancer?
Yes, it is possible to live a long life with bowel cancer, especially if diagnosed early and treated effectively. The survival rate significantly improves with early-stage detection and appropriate treatment.

How does colon cancer affect daily life?
Colon cancer can affect daily life by causing physical symptoms like fatigue, pain, changes in bowel habits, and dietary restrictions. It may also necessitate frequent medical appointments and treatments, impacting work and social activities.

How does bowel cancer affect you emotionally?
Bowel cancer can lead to a range of emotional effects, including anxiety, depression, fear of recurrence, and feelings of isolation. It can impact one's sense of identity and body image, leading to significant emotional and psychological distress.