Survival rate as low as 50pc

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The Independent Online
EVERY DAY about 50 people die of bowel cancer in the United Kingdom, making it the second major cause of cancer death in this country. About 30,000 people develop the disease each year.

Caught early the cure rate is as high as 90 per cent, but for someone like Nick Leeson, where his colon cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, the survival rate goes down to 50 per cent.

Bowel cancer is the development of a malignant growth in the large bowel, or back passage. It occurs when the cells that line the bowel change the way in which they divide.

Men and women of all ages can be affected by this cancer, but it tends to be a disease of old or middle age with 95 per cent of the cases affecting the over-50s. About 5 per cent of patients have a family history of the disease, which is when it tends to appear in those under 45.

It is primarily a disease of the Western world with up to two-thirds of colon cancer attributable to diet, according to the charity Colon Cancer Concern. Eating a large amount of fat, low amounts of fibre plus an excessive alcohol intake can contribute to developing the disease.

There are three standard treatments for colon cancer - surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy either used alone or in combination, depending on the extent of the disease.

In Leeson's, case Professor Gordon McVie, director-general of the Cancer Research Campaign, said that urgent action must be taken to stop the cancer spreading to the liver - the most common route - for which there is no known cure.

To prevent this from happening, patients must undergo surgery to remove the cancerous part of the bowel and all the cancerous lymph nodes.