John, Macmillan cancer information nurse Anne, Macmillan cancer information nurse

Last week we held a live webchat about bowel, rectum and anal cancer. Macmillan Support Line nurses Anne and John joined us in the chat room.

They answered your questions on things like hereditary bowel cancer, bowel cancer screening, bowel problems, and diet.

Here are all the questions and answers from the chat.

The chat is now finished but you can still speak to nurses like Josie or John by calling the Macmillan Support Line (0808 808 0000, Mon-Fri, 9am-8pm) or you can email your question.

I have a family history of late onset bowel cancer, and have been advised to have colonoscopies every three years from the age of 45 (previously they said 55). I was wondering if this is still accurate advice? I should add that it’s not something I’m looking forward to!

John: I’m not surprised that you are not looking forward to it! What you have been told sounds correct and is in line with this document on the NHS bowel cancer screening programme (see page 11).

Different risk groups have different screening intervals and approaches. Your doctor will be able to explain more about your own risk, as may the team at the screening unit.

We also have lots of Macmillan information you may want to read if you're worried about a family history of bowel cancer, including a free booklet called Are you worried about bowel cancer?

I’m post-treatment by about 15 months, having been diagnosed with stage 2 anal cancer, for which I had radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Despite the time that has elapsed, I still get sore after a bowel movement, which occurs every other day. My oncologist is aware of this. Please can you advise what I could ask for at my next visit to enhance the healing process? Steroid creams have been used, but the skin is thin as we age, and fragile and now the steroid creams have now been stopped. My own remedies have been aloe vera gel, shea butter, lanolin and zinc oxide. Companies like L’Oreal and Garnier produce products containing vitamins and substances to strengthen skin, eg collagen, which I am tempted to buy - anything to get this sorted! Do you have any advice on this?

Anne: Sorry to hear you are having these problems. An option may be to try and prevent the constipation. Your GP may be able to prescribe a laxative for you.

You could also try putting the cream on before a bowel movement to see if that helps.

We have some information on our website about managing bowel problems and helping improve bowel movements.

This video about living with anal cancer might be useful, too. 

My stools are hard, despite eating fruit, vegetables, oat bran and sweet potato. I am going to try flax seed, and I thought I drank plenty of liquid.

Anne: There’s some useful information on preventing constipation on our website, which may have some more ideas. We also have a food guide for people with bowel problems.

I had cancerous tumour in my colon. They took out three quarter of my large colon. I also had cancer in my lymph nodes, and I had an operation, then 12 sessions of chemo. Is there any chance of how long will I live? They said it was stage 3 cancer.

John: Although many people ask us this question, it’s never easy to answer accurately. The reason for this is that each person will be affected differently by their illness.  Factors such as how a person responds to treatment, their age, and general health can all influence how long a person may live for.  Even two people with the same type and stage of cancer can have a different prognosis. 

There are average figures here that break down survival by stage. Some people find these figures a helpful marker. Here are some statistics on the outlook for bowel cancer.

I was diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer in June 2013. I am now in remission, but whilst having chemo I was given the drug Oxyplatin, which has caused me have peripheral neuropathy, which I cannot seem to get rid of. Will this condition be permanent? I should add that it is only affecting my feet, with a constant tingling feeling, especially when I walk.

John: It’s good to hear that you are in remission. Peripheral neuropathy can be an irritating and distressing consequence of your chemotherapy treatment. Many people find it improves over time, but this can take a long time - months to years, perhaps. It can be difficult for doctors to say just what will happen in an individual case. If it’s very troublesome, people may be referred to a neurologist.

Our information about the peripheral neuropathy may be of interest.

My dad had bowel cancer - should I get checked out?

Anne: I appreciate your concern about developing bowel cancer, as your dad was diagnosed. We are more at risk of developing cancer with increasing age. Even though your dad was diagnosed, it does not mean you are at increased risk. Risk depends on factors such as age and number of family members diagnosed. You can read this information on hereditary bowel cancer.

We also have some information on our website about inherited bowel cancer.

My husband has had peri-anal cancer and is now in to year four of remission. There was a lymph node involvement, and he had full pelvic radiotherapy. He gets checked out. When should he have a full scan again? We are concerned about what if it was to go elsewhere.

John: I’m glad to hear your husband has been in remission for four years. There aren’t strict guidelines on how often scans are to be done. Doctors will decide this depending on how well someone is, whether they complain of any new symptoms, and what a doctor might find during a physical examination.

Typically, the longer someone stays well the less chance there is of their cancer returning. As you are concerned about this, it might help to share these concerns with your husband’s specialist. He or she can then explain in more detail how helpful a scan might be and what would have to happen for them to feel a scan might be useful.

Read more on this blog.

Join our Online Community bowel cancer group.

Join our Online Community anal cancer group.