Bowel Cancer
EDP column by Dr Ketan Dhatariya

“I have been diagnosed with bowel cancer. I've heard it said that once you operate and the air gets to cancer it is more likely to spread. Is this true or an old wives tale?"

I hope that your condition has been detected early and that you are now in the capable hands of the local bowel cancer specialists. This is an old wives tale. There is no truth in this at all.

Cancer is a major problem in the UK with a quarter of a million people being diagnosed every year in the UK. Overall here is a 1 in 3 chance that an individual will get cancer sometime in their life. Whilst there are over 200 different types of cancer, the most common forms in the UK are breast, lung, colon and prostate. Together, these types make up almost half of all new cases of cancer.

Normally, cells are produced by a very controlled process called cell division. A cell will divide and produce two ‘daughter’ cells. Each of the daughter cells will then go on to divide and produce 2 daughter cells each, a total of 4. This process continues, producing 16 cells, then 32, 64, and so on.  Cells have within then a part of their genetic makeup that tells them when to stop dividing. Indeed, many cells also have within them, instruction about how to die off when they are too old – the technical term for this is ‘apoptosis’ or ‘programmed cell death’. Cancer occurs when this process goes wrong and the cells do not stop dividing or die off.

There are many ways that cancer can spread. These include by the cells ‘invading’ the surrounding tissues, or by spreading via the blood stream or the lymphatic system. The other way is called ‘seeding’. An example of this may be an ovarian cancer. The ovary is bathed in the healthy fluid that is in the abdomen and pelvis to lubricated the organs. Some of the cancer cells may become detached form the ovary and float off in the fluid before becoming embedded in another, some way away – leading to the inside of the abdomen having ‘seeds’ of cancer originating from the ovary. There Is a possibility that this may happen at the time of surgery, leading to spread of the cancer along the site of the operation, however, with modern surgical techniques this is much less likely to happen. Depending on how big the cancer is, what sort it is and how far it has spread (if at all), you may go on to have additional treatments, including radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

If you have any concerns, you should write your questions down for your specialist to answer when you go and see them.

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