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Living with - Bowel cancer

Bowel cancer (also known as colorectal, rectal and colon cancer) can affect your life in different ways. It can depend on the stage the cancer is at and the treatment you're having.

People cope with their diagnosis and treatment differently. But support is available if you need it.

It may help to:

  • talk to your friends and family - they can be a powerful support system
  • talk to other people in the same situation - for example, through bowel cancer support groups
  • talk a counsellor, psychologist or person at a specialist phone helpline
  • find out as much as possible about bowel cancer
  • not try to do too much or tire yourself out
  • make time for yourself
  • plan, prioritise and pace your activities to avoid doing too much

Getting support

Talk to your GP or nurse if you have any questions. They may be able to put your mind at ease. They will also have information on other people to talk to.

Support groups are available online and in person.

Cancer Thriving and Surviving programme

The Cancer Thriving and Surviving programme is a 6-week self-management programme.

It will give you the skills and confidence to live well with and beyond cancer.

Cancer Thriving and Surviving programme

Cancer support services

There are community cancer support centres in most local communities. They provide support services for cancer patients, their families and carers.

These include:

  • counselling and psychological support
  • manual lymphatic drainage
  • physical activity programmes
  • survivorship programmes
  • complementary therapies

Find cancer support centres -

Your emotions

Different people deal with serious problems in different ways. Having cancer can cause a range of emotions.

These may include shock, anxiety, relief, sadness and depression.

Food and digestion

You may find some foods upset your bowels, particularly during the first few months after your operation.

Different foods can upset different people. Food and drink high in fibre can cause problems.

You may find it useful to keep a food diary to record the effects of different foods on your bowel.

Non-urgent advice: Contact your cancer care team if you:

  • have ongoing problems with your tummy or pooing
  • find it difficult to eat a balanced diet

They can refer you to a dietitian to help you with what to eat.

Living with a stoma

Some people need a stoma after bowel surgery. A stoma is when the surgeon creates another way for your poo to leave your body.

A stoma can be short-term or long-term.

You may feel worried about how you look and how others will act around you. There are patient support groups that give support for people who need a stoma.

You can get more details from your stoma care nurse, or visit support groups online.

Caring for your stoma -

Sex and bowel cancer

Having cancer and getting treatment may affect how you feel about relationships and sex.

Most people are able to enjoy a normal sex life after bowel cancer treatment. But you may feel self-conscious or you may not feel comfortable if you have a stoma.

Talk about how you feel with your partner. It may help you support each other. Or you may want to talk to someone else about your feelings. Your doctor or nurse can help.

Dealing with dying

Your GP will provide you with support and pain relief if there's nothing more that can be done to treat your bowel cancer. This is called palliative care.

Palliative care is not just preparing for the end of life. It is also for dealing with your symptoms and improving your quality of life.

Support is also available for your family and friends.

Palliative care -

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

Page last reviewed: 21 November 2023
Next review due: 21 November 2026

This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.