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.