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Claire Taylor: Helping people to live better with and beyond bowel cancer

About half of those treated for rectal cancer will have debilitating bowel symptoms. Offering simple advice and signposting them to where they can get help can significantly improve their quality of life, says Macmillan nurse consultant Claire Taylor. 

About half of those treated for rectal cancer will have debilitating bowel symptoms. Offering simple advice and signposting them to where they can get help can significantly improve their quality of life, says Macmillan nurse consultant Claire Taylor


About half of rectal cancer patients will have debilitating bowel symptoms. Picture: Getty

Do your patients ever worry about getting caught short? Does the fear of being faecally incontinent stop them from going to work or socialising?

Potentially embarrassing bowel problems are a common concern for those treated for colorectal cancer, particularly rectal cancer. It is important for people to know that treatments can cause their bodies to function differently, and if they do have problems, they need to know where to access help. 

About half of those treated for rectal cancer will have debilitating bowel symptoms, at least in the short term. For some, these symptoms can be long term. I encourage people to seek help sooner rather than later, especially if their bowel symptoms are causing them embarrassment and stopping them from doing things they enjoy. 

As well as providing reassurance that these symptoms are common after treatment for colorectal cancer, and that they can improve with the right help, there are simple pieces of advice we can offer all our patients. 

Toilet card 

Suggest they carry a toilet card. Issued free by Macmillan Cancer Support, the wallet-sized card explains that they have cancer and need urgent access to a toilet. You can also suggest they prepare a travel bag, with a change of clothes and cleaning wipes just in case they do have an accident. Being prepared and rehearsing how they will get themselves out of a difficult situation can help to minimise the worry, and getting out of the house might just feel possible. 

Although there is a good range of information available offering self-management strategies, it is best if people with these symptoms seek professional help. 

London North West Healthcare NHS Trust is one of several hospitals around the UK specialising in the management of gastrointestinal consequences of cancer, and patients referred to us receive a comprehensive assessment to understand the range of symptoms they are experiencing.

They may have associated urinary and/or sexual effects from treatment, so we discuss how this is affecting their daily lives before undergoing a systematic process to establish the exact aetiology of their concerns.

The number of cancer survivors is increasing, meaning more people are living with the consequences of cancer and its treatment. It is therefore vital that we are all aware of how we can help people living with and beyond cancer to have a better quality of life.


About the author 

 

 

 

Claire Taylor is Macmillan nurse consultant in colorectal cancer at London North West Healthcare NHS Trust 

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