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Bowel cancer is a general term for cancer that begins in the large bowel – a part of the digestive system that includes the colon and rectum. The symptoms mainly involve changes to bowel habits and new research suggests this is enough to make many Brits avert their eyes. According to a study carried out by Cromwell Hospital, more than a third (35 percent) of Brits would be embarrassed to visit the doctor for a symptom associated with bowel cancer.
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Commenting on the findings, Dr Diana Tait, clinical oncologist at Cromwell Hospital says: “People tend to get very embarrassed when speaking about their bowel movements.
“It isn’t something that’s part of normal everyday conversation and something people still view as a taboo. But by avoiding these conversations people risk symptoms being missed or ignored.”
What should I be looking for?
Speaking to the Express.co.uk, Dr Tait reveals how your toilet paper may hold a visual clue.
She explains: “A key characteristic to look out for is when there is bright red blood in the poo, this could either be mixed with the stool, or on the toilet paper after wiping.
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Bowel cancer symptoms: Bright red blood in the poo on your toilet paper is a sign (Image: Getty Images)
“Bright red blood in your stool can often be linked with haemorrhoids, but if it persists or if it’s occurring in people over the age of 50, then you should be seen by a doctor as soon as possible as it could be a sign of bowel cancer.”
According to Dr Tait, if your poo is dark red, or black and tar-like, it can also be a warning sign that something is wrong.
“While it can be brought on by changes in your diet, a black stool could also indicate bleeding from somewhere within the digestive tract, so you should speak to a doctor to investigate what is causing it,” she warns.
“It’s important to remember that as doctor’s we’ve seen and heard it all before and want to make sure we’re getting you the best possible treatment as soon as possible.”
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What else did the Cromwell Hospital study find?
The study found that the younger generation – 18-24-year olds – are the most embarrassed to speak to a medical professional with over 60 percent saying they would feel uncomfortable discussing symptoms.
Meanwhile, the older generation (55+) were the most comfortable speaking about any of the top four symptoms.
Dr Tait suggests the invasive examinations may account for the apprehension in some people.
She says: “It’s not just the symptoms people worry about discussing, but the fear of what comes next – whether that’s a rectal examination or a colonoscopy.”
Bowel cancer symptoms: Black and tar-like poo is a sign (Image: Getty Images)
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“People forget that, as doctors, we’ve seen symptoms and examined patients before. We want to assess the patient accurately to make sure they are getting the right and best treatment.”
If you notice any blood in your poo, changes to your bowel movement, bloating or abdominal pain after eating, see your GP as soon as possible.
As Dr Diana pints out, early diagnosis really does save lives.
Can I reduce my risk?
Your risk of developing bowel (colon and rectal) cancer depends on many things including age, genetics and lifestyle factors.
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Risk factors: Studies link red meat consumption to an increased risk (Image: Getty Images)
The role of some parts of our diet remains unknown or uncertain but researchers do know that some foods can definitely affect the risk of bowel cancer.
Many studies have shown that eating lots of red and processed meat increases the risk of bowel cancer.
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.
Other risk factors include:
- Being overweight and obese
- Physical activity
- Smoking tobacco
- Family history
- Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
- Previous cancer
- Medical conditions
- Benign polyps in the bowel