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Bowel cancer

Patients with suspected bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, are referred to Belfast City Hospital.

NI Direct has lots of information on the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer.

This section provides details of bowel cancer services for adult patients. Please follow the main menu link for information on children’s cancers.

  • Types

    Bowel (colorectal) cancer can develop in one of two areas of the digestive system:

    • large bowel (colon)
    • back passage (rectum)


    The walls of the colon and rectum are made up of layers of body tissue. Most colon and rectal cancers start in the inner lining of the bowel.

    The cancer grows from a polyp in the bowel. Many polyps are benign (harmless). However, if left untreated they can develop into cancerous tumours. Removing polyps can prevent cancerous tumours in the bowel.

    If you experience symptoms of bowel cancer, you should always see your GP. 

    We also diagnose and treat rarer cancers such as:

  • Referral

    If your GP suspects you may have bowel cancer, they will refer you to Belfast City Hospital. You will then be contacted about an appointment.

    Bowel cancer screening

    The NI Bowel Cancer Screening Programme offers screening every two years to all men and women aged 60 to 74 years.

    People in this age group will automatically be sent an invitation and screening kit so they can do the test at home.

  • Investigations and diagnosis

    You may be referred for a number of investigations and scans to find out if you have cancer.

    These investigations also allow doctors to make a diagnosis and see the extent of any disease.

    Tests and scans may be done at the Belfast City Hospital, Royal Victoria Hospital or Mater Hospital.

    Diagnostic investigations may include:

    • proctoscopy / sigmoidoscopy
    • colonoscopy
    • barium enema
    • CT scan
    • MRI scan
    • PET scan
    • flexible sigmoidoscopy
  • Multi-disciplinary team

    Our specialist team is known as the Colorectal Cancer Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT).

    The team consists of surgeons, oncologists, clinical nurse specialists, stoma nurses, ward staff, radiologists, pathologists, admin staff and other health and social care professionals.

    The Colorectal Cancer MDT meets every week to discuss colorectal patients. We look at all the available results for each patient to ensure the best treatment plan is agreed in each case.

    A record of this discussion will be sent to each patient’s GP.

  • Treatment

    Your treatment will depend on the size, cell type and position of your cancer.

    Before you begin treatment, a doctor will discuss it with you, including the benefits and risks.

    You will also be asked to sign a consent form. This confirms that you understand the benefits and risks of the treatment.


    Surgery involves a stay in hospital and takes place under general anaesthetic. Patients have surgery in the Cancer Centre.

    Macmillan has more information on:


    Patients having surgery may be asked to meet one of our medical team for a pre-assessment to ensure they are fit for the procedure.

    In some cases, patients are asked to have an anaesthetic assessment.

    Most patients are admitted on the morning of their surgery, but some may be admitted the day before.


    Macmillan has information on:


    Further information on chemotherapy services at Belfast Trust is available here.


    Radiotherapy is generally used to treat rectal cancer.

    Further information on radiotherapy services at Belfast Trust is available here.

  • Follow-up

    As part of a review following cancer treatment, patients will be asked to return to the hospital to see one of the colorectal cancer team.

    The review appointments allow the team to assess your progress following treatment. They are also a good opportunity to talk to your doctor about any concerns you have.

    If you notice any new symptoms or have any worries, contact your GP, consultant or the colorectal clinical nurse specialist.

  • Useful links