The Link Between Bowel Cancer and Incontinence

  1. What Is Bowel Cancer?
  2. What Are The Early Signs of Bowel Cancer?
  3. What Are The Main Symptoms of Bowel Cancer?
  4. What Causes Bowel Cancer?
  5. Is Bowel Cancer Hereditary?
  6. Can a Blood Test Detect Bowel Cancer?
  7. Is Bowel Cancer Curable?
  8. Is Bowel Cancer Treatable?
  9. What Are The Main Risk Factors For Bowel Cancer?
  10. Is Bowel Incontinence a Sign of Cancer?
  11. Does Bowel Cancer Cause Incontinence?
  12. Summary

Neither bowel cancer nor incontinence are subjects that we find easy to discuss.  The dread of cancer and the embarrassment of that loss of control over our toilet habits can result in self-silencing behaviours.  However, it is essential to act once symptoms arise, as it could literally save your life.

If you are most concerned by faecal incontinence, then you may find the bowel incontinence guide a helping hand.  Equally, our range of incontinence pads could help you live close to a normal life with the condition.

However, if you are concerned about the link between bowel cancer and incontinence, we hope to answer all your questions here.  To be informed will at least give you some power to make educated choices.

What Is Bowel Cancer?

Bowel cancer is cancer that begins in the colon (large bowel) or the rectum (back passage).  Its medical title is colorectal cancer.  All cancers emerge when abnormal cells uncontrollably divide and grow.  The cells can grow into the tissue or organs that surround them, and from here spread to other parts of the body.

Your treatment will depend on where cancer starts.  The treatment for colon cancer may be different from that for rectal cancers.

The colon is a section of the large bowel.  It is about five feet of tubing that is split into four parts: ascending colon, transverse colon, descending colon and sigmoid colon.  Our rectum is part of the passage that stores stool until it is ready to be passed out of the body into the toilet.  Anal cancers begin at our anus, and small bowel cancers begin between the stomach and the large bowel.

What Are The Early Signs of Bowel Cancer?

It is vital that you do not ignore the early signs of bowel cancer.  Early intervention is essential for successful treatment of the disease.

According to Bowel Cancer UK, the symptoms can include: –

  • Bleeding from your bottom.
  • Blood in the stool
  • A change in bowel habit that persists and cannot be explained
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Unexpected extreme tiredness
  • Pain in your stomach/ lump in your stomach

Most people suffering one or more of these symptoms will not be diagnosed with bowel cancer, as many health problems have similar symptoms.  However, it is still essential that you go to the doctors for an investigation, even if you suspect it is something else.

What Are The Main Symptoms of Bowel Cancer?

Two of the main symptoms of bowel cancer can be alarming and uncomfortable.  The first is bleeding, and the second is bloating and constipation.

The bloating and constipation can make it impossible to eat, and so you begin to lose weight.  It may be that a tumour has blocked the bowel, known as a bowel obstruction.  With this blockage comes sudden and strong pains, a bloated feeling and nausea.  You may also vomit.  When such obstructions occur, you will likely be sent by your GP to the hospital.

Bleeding, especially if the blood is dark red or black, can be distressing and should be taken seriously.  Bright red blood still needs to be checked by a doctor but maybe a result of swollen blood vessels in the rectum, known as haemorrhoids.  However, the darker blood is likely coming from your bowel or stomach. Your GP will want to find the cause with some urgency.

Any changes in toilet habit, extreme fatigue and sudden weight loss should also signal a concern.  Although these are more generic symptoms, they are an early indicator of problems, and you need to see a GP.  Even if all you are saying is that you don’t feel right, trust your instincts and get a check-up.

What Causes Bowel Cancer?

The most significant risk factor for bowel cancer is age. 90% of cases of bowel cancer occur in those over the age of 60.

However, other risky behaviours can contribute to your chances of developing bowel cancer.  If you eat a diet high in red or processed meats but low in fibre, then you increase your risk. Obesity is also a significant risk factor.  Bowel cancer is more common in people who are overweight and those with a sedentary lifestyle.  Therefore, exercise and a balanced diet can help to reduce the risk.

Although there are risk factors, there is no definitive answer as to what causes bowel cancer.  Therefore, even if you are in your 40s, living a healthy life with a healthy, balanced diet, if you experience the symptoms described, you should seek help.

Is Bowel Cancer Hereditary?

If you develop bowel cancer before the age of 50, there is a chance you have Lynch syndrome.  The medical name for Lynch syndrome is hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC).  It is thought this is a result of several potential inherited gene mutations. Alternatively, if there are a cluster of cases of bowel cancer in a family if could be a condition called familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP).

However, hereditary bowel cancers are relatively uncommon.  The NHS note that these two inherited conditions are considered rare.

Can a Blood Test Detect Bowel Cancer?

Your doctor will test your blood for factors that will guide a diagnosis.  The blood only provides a clue about your overall health and will signal the need for further investigation.  Therefore, although the first step your GP will take will be to draw blood, there is no blood test to say you have colon cancer definitively.  They may find chemicals omitted by colon cancers, but you will still need further exploration of your symptoms.

Is Bowel Cancer Curable?

The importance placed on early detection is due to the chances for a cure.  If your colon cancer is detected early, then it is possible that the treatment you receive could result in a cure.

However, the chance of a complete cure isn’t always possible, and there is a higher chance of cancer reoccurring later in life.

The later the diagnosis and the more advanced the condition, the more unlikely a cure becomes.  If colon cancer cannot be completely removed by surgery, then a cure is considered highly unlikely. Seeing your GP as early as possible is essential if there is to be hope for this cure.

Is Bowel Cancer Treatable?

It is vital to differentiate between the terms curable and treatable.  It is possible to treat bowel cancer and so live with the condition, even though you are unlikely to experience a cure.  Stage IV bowel cancer is often not curable, but your doctors may be confident with a combination of surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy that your disease can be managed.  The doctors can also prescribe medicines that will help to ease the symptoms and make living with bowel cancer bearable.

What Are The Main Risk Factors For Bowel Cancer?

The most significant risk factor for bowel cancer is age.  Nine out of ten diagnoses of bowel cancer are in people over the age of 60.

You can increase your risk for bowel cancer by: –

  • Eating a lot of red or unprocessed meats
  • Failing to balance meat-eating with adequate high fibre foods
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Failing to exercise, therefore leading a sedentary lifestyle.


Is Bowel Incontinence a Sign of Cancer?

One of the primary reasons for not accepting and expecting bowel incontinence as we age is that it could be an early indicator of diseases that could be treated.  Incontinence can be a sign of cancer, but it also might not be cancer.  It could be some other treatable or curable condition.  Either way, it is worth seeing a GP to discuss your symptoms.

Does Bowel Cancer Cause Incontinence?

Bowel cancer can result in faecal incontinence or the accidental loss of stools or gas.  Changes in toilet habit can be an early sign of bowel cancer due to the presence of obstructions in the bowel.  However, surgery such as a colonic resection to remove the tumour, as well as pelvic radiotherapy, can also result in incontinence.  Your doctor will help you manage these conditions by suggesting a change to your diet and through the prescription of medications.


A diagnosis of bowel cancer will feel dramatic. Any consequential faecal incontinence can also be highly distressing.  The key message in this guide is that early detection is essential.  The earlier cancer can be found the more treatable, and potentially curable, the condition becomes.  Therefore, if you are experiencing unusual toilet habits, and especially if you see blood in the toilet, you should go to see a GP.

The other message is that you can begin to manage your risk factors now.  Although there are some conditions considered hereditary, these are rare.  Even though you cannot stop the natural ageing process, you can manage your diet, exercise and general lifestyle.  The healthier you are, the more robust your bowel will be too.


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