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Six symptoms of bowel cancer to look out for – advice by consultant colorectal surgeon


Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK after lung and breast in women and lung and prostate in men.

It refers to any tumour located in the colon (the large bowel) or rectum (the final part of the large bowel before the anal canal).

The severity of bowel cancer and the risk it poses to any individual is based predominantly on the size of the tumour at diagnosis, the extent to which it has spread, either locally or to other parts of the body, and finally the general health and age of the individual affected.

Being able to spot bowel cancer early is key, so Oliver Warren, Consultant Colorectal Surgeon at The Lister Hospital, part of HCA Healthcare UK, shared six symptoms to spot.

1. Blood in the stool

Blood in the stool (your poo) or bleeding from the bottom itself is a common symptom of bowel cancer. It may appear as bright red blood or darker, tar-like stools.

READ MORE: Woman shares her four symptoms of bowel cancer after signs ‘ignored’

Mr Warren explained: “Blood in the stool can also be caused by other, less serious, and more common medical conditions, such as fissures (cracks in the lining of the anus) or haemorrhoids (commonly referred to as ‘piles’. Speak to your doctor if you notice this symptom early.”

2. A change in your bowel movements lasting more than five days

The way our bowels work is affected by a multitude of factors. If you notice an unexplained change in the frequency with which you go to the toilet, or the urgency, or the consistency of your poo, (particularly if it’s to a looser, or more mucus-filled stool) then you should seek medical attention and be considered for further assessment.

Mr Warren added: “A continuous sensation of wanting to pass a motion, but not being able to, is another ‘red flag’ that your doctor will want to get further assessed.”

3. Unexplained weight loss or ‘going off your food’.

Losing weight without trying to do so or loss of appetite can both be a symptom of bowel cancer.

Mr Warren said: “Unintentional weight loss is categorised by the loss of ten pounds or more in six months or less without trying or explanation. Weight loss may be the first visible sign of the disease – however, this can also be a sign of a variety of other medical conditions, so if you have any concerns – reach out to a medical professional.”

4. Abdominal pain

Pain felt in the abdomen or lower down in the pelvis may be caused by bowel cancer.

Mr Warren advised: “These pains may be associated with bloating, or pain after eating.”

5. A lump you can feel in the abdomen or at the anus, the exit point of the bowel

Mr Warren said: “Spotting or feeling a lump in the lower abdomen or pelvis, or a lump near to your bottom, may be caused by an underlying bowel cancer.”

6. Unexplained tiredness, fatigue or worsening breathlessness when exercising

Feeling tired, weak, and experiencing low energy levels are all signs of anaemia, where your blood count falls secondary to hidden bleeding.

Mr Warren said: “Bowel cancers can sometimes bleed without patients noticing, and unexplained anaemia can be a sign of a not-yet-diagnosed bowel cancer. This can be tricky for patients and doctors – tiredness is a very common modern-day symptom and can be present for a multitude of reasons. Simple blood tests can be an excellent starting point in establishing if anything is amiss.”

It’s important to note many of these symptoms are common and can be caused by a variety of other conditions.

Mr Warren added: “Experiencing any of the above symptoms does not necessarily mean that you have bowel cancer. However, if you are experiencing any of the above five symptoms, please seek medical advice. Bowel cancer survival improves, the earlier any tumour is found.”

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