Do You Know the Warning Signs and Symptoms of Bowel Cancer?

This article is written by Aimee Harrington. 

Bowel cancer is the third most common type of cancer in the world. Every year, over 104,000 people in the US are diagnosed with bowel cancer, and is predicted to kill over 50,000 people in 2020. Unsurprisingly, living with a chronic illness such as bowel cancer is extremely difficult. Not only do you have to get over the range of emotions and feelings of fear that come with a diagnosis of cancer, your body also has to go through painful surgery which can potentially change the way your body functions forever.

Bowel cancer surgery that removes part of the colon, sometimes leaving you with a stoma bag, is something that many people have to endure, in an attempt to combat the figure of over 20,000 people in the UK losing their lives to this disease every year. But, getting used to your body functioning in this new way takes time. Relationships can suffer and your confidence can be affected .

Do you know the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer? Are you aware of the risk factors? Let’s take a look.

Bowel cancer risk factors

Your risk of developing bowel cancer depends on many factors, including genetics and lifestyle factors, but you are most at risk if:

  • You eat a poor diet – too much red meat and lack of fibre
  • You are overweight or obese
  • You smoke
  • You drink alcohol
  • You suffer with Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis
  • There is a family history of bowel cancer.

Bowel cancer awareness

Bowel cancer is usually associated with men or women in the later years – usually aged sixty and over. But more and more young people are being diagnosed with this disease, simply due to changes in lifestyle. Recent research has found a dramatic increase (7.4%) in the incidence of bowel cancer in younger adult groups aged between 20 and 39 years.

The diagnosis of bowel cancer in younger adults especially has been associated with delays and poorer outcomes, with 60% being diagnosed at later stages of the disease and 34% diagnosed in emergency care, which in turn leads to lower chances of survival.

Currently only 10% of diagnosed bowel cancer patients have a survival rate of over five years. This needs to change and fast.

Do You Know The Warning Signs and Symptoms of Bowel Cancer? | The Health Sessions
All images by Polina Zimmerman via

Looking out for bowel cancer symptoms

There are several signs and symptoms to look out for with regards to bowel cancer. Oftentimes, it may be something as simple as IBS or piles, but if you experience any of the below, see your doctor immediately, so they can rule out a more serious diagnosis of cancer.

Early symptoms of bowel cancer include:

  • Rectal bleeding which is either bright or dark red in color
  • Tenesmus, which is the feeling that you have to empty your bowel but nothing passes
  • Anemia caused by iron deficiency
  • Persistent abdominal pain
  • Unexplained weight loss.

Bowel cancer testing

If you suspect you may have bowel cancer, it is imperative to seek professional medical advice. Your doctor can recommend a home testing kit as an option – Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) which detects unseen blood in the stool or ColoAlert which looks for tumour markers and cancer cells, not just the presence of blood .

Blood in the stool should never be ignored and if your doctor is reluctant to refer you for one, remember to mention any of the risk factors you may have, including family history and being honest about the amount you smoke and drink.

Getting a bowel cancer diagnosis

If you receive the devastating news that you do have bowel cancer, it can feel like the world is falling down around you. Treatment will depend on which part of your bowel is affected and how far the cancer has spread, but there are options including:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiotherapy

There is always a support base around you, no matter what stage your diagnosis is at or whether you’re in recovery. There are tons of amazing charities out there to offer support and guidance, including Bowel Cancer UK. Most importantly, remember you are not alone.

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Jennifer Mulder


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