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​3 Key Symptoms of Bowel Cancer

​3 Key Symptoms of Bowel Cancer
This week the death of bowel cancer sufferer and charity campaigner Dame Deborah James was announced. James was diagnosed with the disease 6 years ago and in that time went on to raise awareness, challenge taboos and get the nation talking about cancer in a new and honest way.

James’ death at the age of 40 has prompted many of us to want to check ourselves out and learn how to spot the symptoms of bowel cancer.

So here’s our easy guide to the 3 main symptoms you need to keep an eye out for and when you should book a GP appointment if you’re concerned about the symptoms you’re experiencing.

Bowel Cancer Facts

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK and the second biggest cancer killer. Most people diagnosed with the disease are over 60, although it can and does strike anyone at any age.

Bowel cancer is a general term for cancer that begins in the large bowel. Depending on where the cancer starts, bowel cancer is sometimes called colon or rectal cancer.

As with all cancers early diagnosis is key to survival but unfortunately 70% of patients with bowel cancer are diagnosed at a late stage because of embarrassment or what Dame Deborah James called ‘poo taboo’.

So let’s take a look a the key signs you need to be aware of:

Changes in Your Bowel Movements

The biggest thing to notice is any change in your regular bowel movements. Everyone’s bowel movements are different which is why there is no value in comparing yours with anybody else’s.

However, recognising changes that occur over a period of time and don’t feel quite right could help to save your life.

Key indicators that something might be of concern would be:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Needing to pass stools more often
  • Poo has regularly become looser
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss

Day to day fluctuations will occur in us all, and are rarely cause for concern. However, if there is a sudden and noticeable change to your bowel habit can be suggestive of an underlying health issue.

Blood in Your Poo

If you’re noticing blood in your stool for no obvious reason, especially if it is associated with a change in bowel habit, this could be a cause for concern.

Bleeding can be a sign that there is something untoward happening higher up the bowel, which would otherwise cause you no pain or symptoms. Bleeding can come with anaemia, fatigue and even shorter breath during activity.

If you experience bleeding in your stools, or any of the other symptoms over the course of a couple of weeks you should request a blood test from your GP.

Persistent Tummy Pain

Stomach pains and cramps can happen from time to time with little to worry about. However if you’re experiencing regular pain in your lower abdominal, especially after eating, this could be a sign of bowel cancer developing.

Keep a diary of symptoms over a couple of weeks to track how eating, cramps, bloating and pains may be related as this will be valuable information for your GP in helping to diagnose the issue.

Bowel Cancer Screening

In the UK bowel screening kits are available every 2 years to everyone aged 50 - 74 in Scotland, 58 - 74 in Wales and 60 - 74 in England & Northern Ireland. So if you’re offered a screening kit, it’s an incredibly easy way to check your risk alongside the regular, daily monitoring you can do at home.

You are 14 times more likely to survive bowel cancer if it is detected early. So screening, and being vigilant with your own movements at home are key to battling and staving off this disease.

And Finally

As Dame Deborah James said in her final messages to her supporters : ’find a life worth enjoying; take risks; love deeply; have no regrets; and always, always have rebellious hope. And finally, check your poo – it could just save your life.’

You can donate to the Bowel Babe Fund here:

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July 2022