How to spot the signs of bowel cancer
April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month. Over 41,200 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK. 15,903 cases lead to death – that’s 44 deaths every day. Early diagnosis saves lives, that’s why the focus this April is on raising awareness of bowel cancer symptoms. Here is our guide on what to look out for and who to consult should you feel at risk.
What are the symptoms?
It’s important to be vigilant when addressing symptoms of bowel cancer. Often, the symptoms don’t necessarily make you feel ill and can be subtle. Over 90% of people with bowel cancer have a combination of the following symptoms:
- A persistent and/or unexplained change in bowel habit. This includes going to the toilet more frequently, with looser stools and occasionally abdominal pain.
- Bleeding from the rectum or blood in the stool. This is more of concern without other symptoms of piles (haemorrhoids) – this makes it unlikely the cause is haemorrhoids
- Pain or a lump in the abdomen; discomfort or bloating consistently after eating – this may lead to a reduced appetite and weight loss.
- Tiredness and breathlessness caused by a lower than normal level of red blood cells (anaemia).
When to seek medical advice?
Bowel cancer symptoms are very common. It is rare for everyone with these symptoms to be diagnosed with bowel cancer. However, if the symptoms persist for more than four weeks, you must consult your GP and consider referral to a specialist. Most symptoms of bowel cancer will not require emergency attention. The exception to this is a bowel obstruction.
A bowel obstruction occurs when cancer prevents digestive waste from passing through the bowel. This is an emergency. You should see your doctor immediately or go to A&E at your nearest hospital if you think you have a bowel obstruction.
The symptoms of a bowel obstruction include:
- A coming and going of pain, sometimes severe, in the abdomen. This is continuously prominent after eating.
- Bloating or swelling of the abdomen, often coinciding with abdominal pain.
- Constipation and being unable to pass wind
- Vomiting – partnered with constant swelling of the abdomen.
- Unexpected weight loss in collaboration with abdominal pain.
The NHS has provided a bowel cancer symptom checker for advice on what treatments may be helpful for your symptoms, and when you should consult your GP to identify whether any additional tests will be necessary.
You can book a consultation with one of our specialists, who have expertise in screening for and treating bowel cancer, below.