Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, with more than 41,000 people diagnosed every year.
The good news is, bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is treatable and survival rates are very high if the disease is caught early. So it’s important to be aware of the symptoms, especially for people aged 50 and over (around 94% of bowel cancer cases in the UK are diagnosed in this age group).
Meanwhile, here are 5 warning signs of bowel cancer everybody needs to know about:
1: Blood in your poo
Seeing blood when you have a bowel movement (whether that’s blood passing from your rectum, in or around your poo) doesn’t automatically mean something is seriously wrong – in fact, bright red blood when you go to the toilet is often a result of swollen blood vessels in the back passage, known as haemorrhoids or piles. Dark red, or even black blood, usually means it’s older and coming from somewhere more internal. Either way, any unusual bleeding in this department should never be ignored as it can be a symptom for something serious, including cancer.
2: Changes in bowel habits
Any ongoing changes in your own bowel habits – especially if they’ve been going on for three weeks or longer – should be checked out by your doctor. Maybe your bowel movements have become more frequent, or you might feel you’re not going often enough and not fully emptying your bowels. You might also notice changes in the consistency of your poo and that it’s become looser and more like diarrhoea. Again, changes in bowel habits can occur for lots of reasons but it’s not something you should ever ignore.
3: A lump or pain
If you notice any unusual lumps or bumps in your abdomen (tummy area) or back passage, tell your doctor immediately so that they can investigate whether something serious is going on. Sometimes, a lump isn’t always noticeable without scans, but you might be experiencing pain or soreness in the area and a feeling of being swollen, blocked or bloated.
4: Unexplained fatigue
We all get tired, and if you’re going through a busy or stressful phase of life, or not getting much sleep or eating properly then it stands to reason you might feel more exhausted than usual. But unusual, ongoing fatigue for no obvious reason can sometimes be a sign of iron-deficiency anaemia as a result of something going on internally, including cancer.
5: Unexplained weight loss
If you’ve lost a noticeable amount of weight without really trying, it’s a good idea to tell your doctor. Perhaps you’re not eating as much as usual because you don’t feel very hungry, you’ve started feeling uncomfortably full after small amounts of food, or maybe your eating habits haven’t changed yet you’re losing weight. Weight loss isn’t always a sign of cancer, but it isn’t something to ignore.