Treatment for bowel cancer
The main treatments for bowel cancer are surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
You can read more about these in our sections about colon cancer and rectal cancer.
Surgery for bowel cancer involves removing some of the colon and/or rectum. Some people have surgery to create a new opening in the abdomen - a colostomy or ileostomy (also known as a stoma). This may be temporary or permanent. All of these operations cause changes in how the bowel works.
Surgery can cause changes in the tissues of the tummy (abdomen). The skin may be less stretchy and the abdominal wall less strong. Weakness in the muscle of the abdomen can lead to a hernia developing months or years later. Sometimes, scar tissue inside the abdomen (adhesions) may cause pain or discomfort, or may narrow the bowel.
If you have a stoma, as well as learning new skills to manage this, you’ll also need time to adjust to the changes in your body. How long this takes varies from person to person. Specialist nurses, called stoma care nurses, are available to help and support you with this.
After rectal surgery, some people may have changes in how their bladder works or sexual difficulties.
Radiotherapy to the rectum and surrounding tissues (pelvic radiotherapy) often causes bowel symptoms that get better within a few weeks of treatment ending. But it can also cause late (delayed) effects months or years after treatment. Possible late effects include changes in bowel function, bladder function, or sexual difficulties.
Some chemotherapy drugs can cause changes in sensation, such as pins and needles or numbness in your hands and feet. These changes may take several months to get better and for some people are permanent.
Cancer treatment can also cause more general changes in how you feel. You may be more tired than usual for many months after treatment or have difficulty concentrating or remembering things. These side effects usually improve gradually over time.