Bowel Cancer Awareness Month: 7 warning signs you should never ignore
Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer deaths in the UK (lung cancer causes most deaths), but if caught early enough, 95% of cases can be cured.
This means being aware of the potential warning signs, and getting them checked out sooner rather than later, really can make the world of difference. And with around 42,000 men and women diagnosed every year – which includes younger people, although the disease mostly affects people aged 50-plus – bowel cancer is everyone’s business.
To mark April’s Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, here, consultant colorectal surgeons Mr Colin Elton and Mr Daren Francis – who both work at The Wellington Hospital, part of HCA Healthcare UK – highlight seven key warning signs of bowel cancer that everybody should be aware of.
The main message? These symptoms don’t automatically mean you have cancer and are usually caused by something far less serious – but it’s always best to get them checked by your doctor quickly.
1. Blood in your stools
Perhaps the most well-known symptom of bowel cancer is bleeding from the bottom or blood in the stools, which can vary from a small amount on the tissue after you wipe, to a substantial amount mixed in with your stool.
“Bowel cancer can start in the large bowel (colon) or back passage (rectal),” explains Elton. “Usually, bright red blood indicates bleeding in the lower colon or rectum, while darker red blood is a sign of bleeding in the small bowel or upper colon. If you notice any bleeding, book an appointment with your doctor so they can give you an examination and find out what’s causing it.”
There are many other possible reasons for rectal bleeding, such as haemorrhoids, fistulas, fissures, diverticulitis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, gastroenteritis, a sexually-transmitted infection or polyps. “Even though bowel cancer may not be the cause, it’s important to visit your GP or a doctor if you’re experiencing the symptom – just to be sure,” Elton advises.
2. Change in bowel habits
“Although usually a symptom of other less serious problems, persistent constipation, diarrhoea and bowel incontinence could also be a sign of bowel cancer. It’s important to tell your GP if you’ve noticed these changes in your bowel habits, especially if you’re also experiencing bleeding from your back passage,” says Francis.
A more common cause of changing bowel habits is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which affects around 20% of the UK population. “Your symptoms are far more likely to be caused by this,” adds Francis, “but it’s always important to check with a specialist, just to be on the safe side.”
Fatigue is a symptom of most cancers, including bowel cancer. But as most people experience some degree of fatigue due to their busy lifestyles, it can be a difficult symptom to spot. “Cancer fatigue isn’t like ordinary tiredness,” explains Elton. “It doesn’t tend to improve after a good night’s sleep or a cup of coffee, and it’s often described as ‘whole body tiredness’. In some cases, it’s been known to affect an individual’s ability to participate in normal activities.”
He stresses that anyone concerned by the level of exhaustion they’re feeling despite getting lots of rest, should seek medical advice to investigate the cause.
4. Unexpected weight loss
Like fatigue, unexpected weight loss is a generic cancer symptom seen in a lot of cancer cases. Francis says: “When you lose a substantial amount of weight for no apparent reason, you’re experiencing unexplained weight loss. For example, if you lose 10 or more pounds and can’t understand why, this would be considered a concern. Usually, if you’re experiencing a change in bowel habits, blood in the stool, or pain in the abdomen along with unexplained weight loss, this could be an indication of bowel cancer – so it’s important to pay attention to your body and keep an eye on any changes that might be occurring.”
5. Lumps and bumps
Elton says some bowel cancer patients may notice an unusual lump or bump in their abdomen or back passage, often caused by the cancer tumour. “See your GP if any lumps don’t go away or if they’re affecting how you sleep or eat, as this could be a sign bowel cancer is present,” he says.
6. Abdominal pain or discomfort
Abdominal pain, bloating, gas, indigestion or general stomach pain are very common, and are usually a reflection of your diet. Francis says symptoms that occur occasionally, for example fewer than twice a week, and easily respond to over-the-counter medication are rarely a cause for concern.
“But if you’ve noticed these symptoms on a more frequent or severe basis – for example, consistently waking you up at night or causing you to use over-the-counter medications more than twice a week – you should pay your GP a visit, as it could be a sign of bowel cancer,” he says, explaining that the symptoms may occur if bowel cancer tumours block part of the bowel and cause disruptions to the digestive system.
7. Nausea and vomiting
If nausea or vomiting is accompanied by any of the other bowel cancer symptoms, this could potentially be a sign of bowel cancer, usually because the cancer tumour is causing a bowel obstruction.
“Depending on the size and severity of the tumour blockage, solids, liquids and even gas may be prevented from passing through the colon,” says Elton. “This can lead to painful stomach cramps and constipation, and, in turn, nausea and vomiting.”
The Press Association
Latest posts by The Press Association (see all)
- ‘Deadly pollen bomb’ due over Easter – 10 tips to ease allergy symptoms - April 17, 2019
- Ruth Madoc: ‘At my age, you have to live each day and ignore death’ - April 17, 2019
- Even moderate amounts of bacon and red meat linked to bowel cancer - April 17, 2019
- A remarkable new TV programme is presenting our planet in a whole new light - April 16, 2019
- Inspired by Tiger Woods at the Masters? Here are 6 health benefits of golf - April 15, 2019
Leave a Comment!
Community Terms & Conditions
These content standards apply to any and all material which you contribute to our site (contributions), and to any interactive services associated with it.
You must comply with the spirit of the following standards as well as the letter. The standards apply to each part of any contribution as well as to its whole.
be accurate (where they state facts); be genuinely held (where they state opinions); and comply with applicable law in the UK and in any country from which they are posted.
Contributions must not:
contain any material which is defamatory of any person; or contain any material which is obscene, offensive, hateful or inflammatory; or promote sexually explicit material; or promote violence; promote discrimination based on race, sex, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation or age; or infringe any copyright, database right or trade mark of any other person; or be likely to deceive any person; or be made in breach of any legal duty owed to a third party, such as a contractual duty or a duty of confidence; or promote any illegal activity; or be threatening, abuse or invade another’s privacy, or cause annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety; or be likely to harass, upset, embarrass, alarm or annoy any other person; or be used to impersonate any person, or to misrepresent your identity or affiliation with any person; or give the impression that they emanate from us, if this is not the case; or advocate, promote or assist any unlawful act such as (by way of example only) copyright infringement or computer misuse.
Nurturing a safe environment
Our Silversurfers community is designed to foster friendships, based on trust, honesty, integrity and loyalty and is underpinned by these values.
We don't tolerate swearing, and reserve the right to remove any posts which we feel may offend others... let's keep it friendly!