Bowel cancer is one of the most common cancers in the UK. It’s also one of the most dangerous. The charity Cancer Research UK puts the condition third in its rankings of most common causes of cancer death. Since it’s so deadly, knowing the symptoms – as well as testing yourself regularly if you’re eligible – is vital.
Less than one in ten survive past stage 4 of the disease but the odds look a lot better if it’s caught at stage one. Nine in 10 with stage one bowel cancer will survive the disease for five or more years.
Bowel cancer strikes the large intestine – the massive tube-like organ that moves food towards your colon.
It grows out of initially cancer-free growths known as polyps.
According to NHS Inform, one of the “most common” signs of bowel cancer is changes in your experience while pooping, including frequent and looser stools.
Bowel cancer can change your bowel movements in other ways, including by turning your stools a black colour because of blood dripping into it.
The blood comes from your rectum, which can be damaged by bowel cancer.
Bowel cancer is often known as colon or colorectal cancer because the tumour can also affect the rectum or colon.
The third, “most common” symptom that can be spotted in people with bowel cancer is tummy pain, explains the NHS.
But “most people” with the three common symptoms “do not have bowel cancer”, the health body shared.
It said: “For example, blood in the stools is more often caused by haemorrhoids (piles), and a change in bowel habit or abdominal pain is usually the result of something you have eaten.
“As almost nine out of 10 people with bowel cancer are over the age of 60, these symptoms are more important as people get older.
“They are also more significant when they persist despite simple treatments.”
It also explains that people who do go on to get diagnosed with bowel cancer usually have a combination of symptoms.
The combination could be one of the following:
- Persistent bowel habit changes such as going more often and blood in the stools
- a persistent change in bowel habits with abdominal pain
- blood in the stools without haemorrhoid symptoms, such as soreness, discomfort, pain, itching or a lump hanging down outside the back passage
- Abdominal pain and bloating after eating lead to less eating and weight loss
But in some cases, bowel cancer can also bring on fatigue. If the tumour bleeds, you can lose lots of blood – causing you to be low on red blood cells.
Red blood cells carry oxygen around your body, which is necessary for your body to create energy.
You should visit your doctor as soon as possible if you show any symptoms.
It’s also worth making sure you complete a bowel cancer screening test, which will now be sent to you once you are eligible. This can help you spot signs that are not noticeable to the human eye.
People over the age of 58 will be sent a Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) automatically.
FIT looks for blood in your poo. It can spot tiny traces that you might not see.