What is bowel cancer?

The bowel is part of the digestive system and is divided into the small bowel and large bowel. The large bowel is made up of the colon, rectum and anus. The term bowel cancer is normally used to talk about:

But it is also used when talking about other cancers, including:

If you are diagnosed with bowel cancer, it means you have one of the specific cancers listed above. If you are not sure which type, ask your GP, cancer doctor or specialist nurse for more information.

Symptoms of bowel cancer

Signs and symptoms of bowel cancer may depend on the specific type you have.

For more information about symptoms, follow the links above to the different types of bowel cancer. 

Causes of bowel cancer

Doctors do not know the exact causes of bowel cancer. But there are risk factors that can increase your chance of developing it. These will depend on the type of bowel cancer you have, but there are some common risk factors.

Diagnosis of bowel cancer

Most people usually begin by seeing their GP. If they think your symptoms could be caused by cancer, they will refer you to a specialist at the hospital. There are other ways you may be diagnosed:

  • Having NHS Bowel Screening
    Bowel screening is a way of finding bowel cancer at an early stage before it causes symptoms. If you have a family history of bowel cancer, you may need to have bowel screening at an earlier age.
  • Going to hospital with a problem, such as bowel obstruction
    This is when part of the bowel becomes blocked. It may cause symptoms such as tummy pain, nausea and vomiting, and constipation.

How we can help

Macmillan Cancer Support Line
The Macmillan Support Line offers confidential support to people living with cancer and their loved ones. If you need to talk, we'll listen.
0808 808 00 00
7 days a week, 8am - 8pm
Email us
Get in touch via this form
Chat online
7 days a week, 8am - 8pm
Online Community
An anonymous network of people affected by cancer which is free to join. Share experiences, ask questions and talk to people who understand.
Help in your area
What's going on near you? Find out about support groups, where to get information and how to get involved with Macmillan where you live.