Coping with bowel cancer

You might have lots of emotions to cope with when you are diagnosed with bowel cancer. The treatment can cause changes in your body which can affect how you feel in yourself.

There is support available to help you cope during and after treatment.

Your feelings

You might have a number of different feelings when you're told you have cancer. You may feel shocked and upset. You might also feel:

  • numb
  • frightened and uncertain
  • confused
  • angry and resentful
  • guilty

You may have some or all of these feelings. Or you might feel totally different. Everyone reacts in their own way. Sometimes it's hard to take in the fact that you have cancer at all.

Experiencing different feelings is a natural part of coming to terms with cancer. All sorts of feelings are likely to come and go.

Helping yourself

You may be more able to cope and make decisions if you have information about your type of cancer and its treatment. Information helps you to know what to expect.

Taking in information can be difficult, especially when you have just been diagnosed. Make a list of questions before you see your doctor. Take someone with you to remind you what you want to ask. They can also help you to remember the information that was given. Getting a lot of new information can feel overwhelming.

Ask your doctors and nurses to explain things again if you need them to.

Remember that you don’t have to sort everything out at once. It might take some time to deal with each issue. Ask for help if you need it.

Talking to other people

Talking to your friends and relatives about your cancer can help and support you. But some people are scared of the emotions this could bring up and won’t want to talk. They might worry that you won't be able to cope with your situation.

It can strain relationships if your family or friends don't want to talk. But talking can help increase trust and support between you and them.

Help your family and friends by letting them know if you would like to talk about what’s happening and how you feel.

You might find it easier to talk to someone outside your own friends and family. We have cancer information nurses you can call on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Or you may prefer to see a counsellor.

You may feel quite isolated and find it difficult to talk to people. It is normal to feel embarrassed about having cancer of the bowel or rectum at first. Our bowels and going to the toilet are very private matters for many people. But the staff at the hospital or clinic are very used to talking about these things and so you don't need to feel embarrassed. It is up to you who you tell and who you decide to talk to.

Specialist nurses can help you if you’re finding it difficult to cope or if you have any problems. They can get you the help you need. They can also give you information about your cancer.

Dietitians can help you with any eating problems you have.

Stoma nurses can give advice and support with your stoma.

Support groups

NHS Choices has a service that tells you about local information and support.

Physical problems

Bowel cancer and its treatment might 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 can cause scarring. It can be especially difficult if you have a colostomy or ileostomy. You'll need support to help you learn how to deal with it.

After bowel surgery or radiotherapy you may have loose poo 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.

You may find that you need to change your diet to help your bowel work as normally as possible.

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. 

Relationships and cancer

The physical changes you have can affect your relationships and sex life. There are things that you can do to help.

Coping practically

You and your family might need to cope with practical things including:

  • money matters
  • financial support, such as benefits, sick pay and grants
  • work issues
  • childcare

Talk to your doctor or specialist nurse to find out who can help. Getting help early with these things can mean that they don’t become a big issue later.

Our coping practically section has more information about all these issues. 

Life after cancer- Paul's story

In this video Paul shares his story of life after bowel cancer. 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.

Last reviewed: 
18 Mar 2022
Next review due: 
18 Mar 2025
  • Colorectal cancer 
    The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2020. Updated December 2021

  • Principles and practice of oncology (11th edition)
    VT De Vita, S Hellman and SA Rosenberg
    Wolters Kluwer, 2019

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