Bowel Cancer in the Family. Is it genetic?

Bowel cancer affects the bit of your body you need to poo (also known as a number two, a stool or a bowel motion). Bowel cancer is a very common type of cancer, it is the third most common cancer in men (after prostate and lung cancer) and the second most common cause of cancer in woman (after breast cancer) [Data from Cancer Research UK].

In Scotland, 3000 people a year are diagnosed with bowel cancer, about 1000 cases are diagnosed in the north of Scotland (Tayside, Grampian, Highland, Western Isles, Argyll and Orkney and Shetland) [Data from ISD Scotland].

Many people worry that they might inherit bowel cancer because their mother or father or uncle or aunt developed it.  Some cases of bowel cancer are clearly inherited, but for most (the vast majority) genetics are not the main cause.

If you took 100 people with bowel cancer (the green people in the picture below) then only 5-10% of those people have developed bowel cancer because of a faulty gene (the purple people)

So far, scientists have discovered three types of inherited bowel cancer (i.e where bowel cancer “runs in the family”.)

  1. FAP (Familial adenomatous polyposis)
  2. HNPCC (Hereditary non polyposis colorectal cancer
  3. MAP (MYH associated polyposis)

We don’t know what cases all cases of bowel cancer, a few cases are caused by faulty genes (as shown above); some are caused by a low fibre diet; some are caused by a lack of excercise; some are caused by drinking alcohol (more than 4 units a day) and some are caused by being overweight (obesity).

It is likely that scientists will discover more genes linked to bowel cancer in the future but you can lower your risk by eating healthily (5 portions of fruit and veg a day). Taking excercise and not drinking too much.

For more information from Cancer Research UK click here. In Scotland the NHS plan to invite all men and women aged between 50 and 74 to take part in screening checks by 2015, there is more information on the imaginatively titled Scottish Bowel Screening website. You can find more specific help on bowel cancer from the charity Bowel Cancer UK. You might also like to check out “When bottoms go wrong” on the Beating Bowel Cancer Website.

If you know of any other webistes that are useful, please feel free to leave a comment below.


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