Bowel cancer symptoms explained by Doctor Richard Roope

Bowel cancer is a general term for cancerous cells that multiply and divide uncontrollably in the large bowel. The symptoms of bowel cancer can be subtle and do not necessarily make you feel ill. Blood in poo is one of the main warning signs and it can be signalled in the colour of your bowel motions.



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    According to Cancer Research UK, blood from higher up in the bowel doesn’t look bright red.

    “It goes dark red or black and can make your bowel motions look like tar,” warns the charity.

    It adds: “This type of bleeding can be a sign of cancer higher up the bowel. Or it could be from a bleeding stomach ulcer for example.”

    Other symptoms associates with bowel cancer include a persistent change in bowel habit and abdominal pain, discomfort or bloating always brought on by eating.

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    Bowel motions that look like tar are a sign

    Bowel cancer symptoms: Bowel motions that look like tar are a sign (Image: Getty Images)

    How to respond

    According to the NHS, you should see a GP if you have any of the symptoms of bowel cancer for three weeks or more.

    “When you first see a GP, they’ll ask about your symptoms and whether you have a family history of bowel cancer,” explains the health body.

    It adds: “They’ll usually carry out a simple examination of your bottom, known as a digital rectal examination (DRE), and examine your tummy (abdomen).”

    This is a useful way of checking whether there are any lumps in your tummy or bottom (rectum).

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    Am I at risk?

    The exact cause of bowel cancer is unknown. However, research has shown several factors may make you more likely to develop it.

    Your risk of developing bowel (colon and rectal) cancer depends on many things including age, genetics and lifestyle factors.

    It is important to note that having one or more risk factors doesn’t mean that you will definitely get bowel cancer.

    Many studies have shown that eating lots of red and processed meat increases the risk of bowel cancer.

    The main warning signs of cancer

    Cancer symptoms: The main warning signs of cancer (Image: Getty Images)


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    According to Cancer Research UK, it is estimated that around 13 out of 100 bowel cancer cases (around 13 percent) in the UK are linked to eating these meats.

    Processed meat is any meat that has been treated to preserve it and/or add flavour – for example, bacon, salami, sausages, canned meat, or chicken nuggets.

    The government recommends that people eating more than 90g of red and processed meat a day should reduce it to 70g or less. 70g is the cooked weight.

    There is also strong evidence that people who are more physically active have a lower risk of bowel cancer.

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    Most people affected are over the age of 50

    Bowel cancer risk factors: Most people affected are over the age of 50 (Image: Getty Images)

    Not all risk factors can be modified – bowel cancer is more common in older people.

    “More than none out of 10 cases of bowel cancer develop in older adults over the age of 50, and nearly six out of 10 cases develop in people aged 70 or older,” says the NHS.

    According to the health body, having a family history of bowel cancer in a first-degree relative – a mother, father, brother or sister – under the age of 50 can increase your lifetime risk of developing the condition yourself.

    If you’re particularly concerned that your family’s medical history may mean you’re at an increased risk of developing bowel cancer, the health body recommends speaking to a GP.

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