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Coping with bowel cancer

Men and women discussing bowel cancer

This page tells you about coping with bowel cancer (colorectal cancer). You can find the following information


A quick guide to what's on this page

Coping with bowel cancer

It can be very difficult coping with a diagnosis of bowel cancer, both practically and emotionally. You may feel very upset and confused at first. As well as coping with the fear and anxiety that a diagnosis of cancer brings, you have to work out how to manage practically. There may be money matters to sort out. Who do you tell you have cancer? There may be children or grandchildren to consider.

Our coping with cancer section contains lots of information you may find helpful. There are sections about

  • Your feelings
  • Talking to people – who and what to tell
  • Talking to children
  • Managing symptoms of cancer and side effects of treatment
  • How you can help yourself
  • Who else can help you
  • Sex and sexuality
  • Coping financially, including information about benefits and sick pay, mortgages, pensions, loans and insurance

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the living with bowel cancer section.



Coping with your diagnosis

It can be very difficult coping with a diagnosis of bowel cancer, both practically and emotionally. At first, you are likely to feel very upset, frightened and confused. Or you may feel that things are out of your control. It is very important to get the right information about your type of cancer and how it is best treated. People who are well informed about their illness and treatment are more able to make decisions and cope with what happens.

Many people survive bowel cancer. But treatment can be hard and it takes time to fully recover. You may have side effects that generally improve over the weeks and months after treatment. But for some these may be long lasting.


How bowel cancer can affect you physically

Bowel cancer and its treatment may cause physical changes in your body. These changes can be very difficult to cope with and may affect the way you feel about yourself.

Surgery for bowel cancer may cause scarring. It can be especially difficult if you need to have a colostomy or ileostomy. You will then need support to help you learn how to deal with it. These body changes can affect your self esteem and the way you relate to other people, especially close family and friends. There is information about coping with a stoma in this section.

After bowel surgery or radiotherapy you may have loose stools or diarrhoea for some time. Diarrhoea is more likely if you have had a large part of your bowel removed. You may also have diarrhoea alternating with constipation. Your doctor or specialist nurse can advise you on managing any changes in your bowel habits. We have information about coping with diarrhoea.

You may find that you need to change your diet to help your bowel work as normally as possible. There is information about diet after bowel cancer in this section.

Another problem you may have to cope with is feeling very tired and lacking in energy a lot of the time, especially for a while after treatment or if your cancer is advanced. There is information about fatigue and cancer in the section about coping physically with cancer.

If you are in a sexual relationship, one or all of these changes may affect your sex life. There is information about how bowel cancer can affect your sex life in this section. We have general information about sex and cancer in the coping with cancer section.


Coping practically with bowel cancer

As well as coping with the fear and anxiety that a diagnosis of bowel cancer brings, you may also have to work out how to manage practically. There may be money matters to sort out. You may need information about financial support, such as benefits, sick pay and grants. 

Who do you tell that you have cancer? And how do you find the words? You may also have children to think about. We have information that may help, about talking to people about your cancer and who and what to tell children.

Just try to remember that you don't have to sort everything out at once. It may take some time to deal with each issue. Do ask for help if you need it. Your doctor or specialist nurse will know who you can contact for help. They can put you in touch with people specially trained in supporting those with cancer. These people are there to help so do use them if you feel you need to.

You may need access to support staff, such as a stoma nurse or dietitian. Social workers can help you with information about your entitlement to sick pay and benefits. If you live alone, a social worker may be able to help by organising convalescence when you first come out of hospital.


Life after cancer

In this video Paul shares his story of life after bowel cancer. He finished treatment 5 years ago. He and, his friend from rugby, Dave talk about what it was like going to appointments, going back to work once treatment had finished and how rugby helped him through. Coping after treatment finishes can be challenging and hearing about how other people cope can help.

View a transcript of the video showing Paul's story. The transcript opens in a new window.


More information on coping with bowel cancer

The coping with cancer section has lots of helpful information. There are sections about

If you would like more detailed information about coping with bowel cancer, contact our cancer information nurse team. They will be happy to help. There is also a bowel cancer reading list.

You can also find details of counselling organisations, that can tell you more about counselling and help you find sources of emotional support in your area.

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Updated: 23 September 2015