Bowel cancer symptoms explained by Doctor Richard Roope

Bowel cancer is a general term for cancer that begins in the large bowel. Depending on where the cancer starts, bowel cancer is sometimes called colon or rectal cancer. Survival outcomes greatly depend on when the cancer is picked up so acting on the warning signs as soon as they appear is vital.


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Unfortunately, the symptoms of bowel cancer can be subtle and do not necessarily make you feel ill, which delay symptom recognition.

As the Cancer Treatment for Centers of America (CTCA) explains, early symptoms may affect only the colon and result in changes in bowel habits.

The colon, also known as the large bowel or large intestine, is the final part of the digestive tract.

Changes in bowel habits include blood in stools (either as bright red spots or dark tar-like stools), warns the CTCA.

READ MORE: Bowel cancer: ‘Apple-shaped’ women are at higher risk of deadly disease

Bright red spots in poo is warning sign

Bowel cancer symptoms: Bright red spots in poo is warning sign (Image: Getty Images)

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Other warning signs include:

  • Change in frequency of bowel movements
  • Constipation
  • Change in consistency of stool (loose or watery stools)
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Abdominal pain, bloating or cramps
  • A persistent feeling that you cannot completely empty your bowels.

When to seek help

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).”

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

Are you 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.

Having one or more risk factors doesn’t mean that you will definitely get bowel cancer.

Eating lots of red and processed meat increases the risk

Bowel cancer risk: Eating lots of red and processed meat increases the risk (Image: Getty Images)


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One modifiable risk factor relates to the foods you eat.

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.

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.

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The main symptoms of bowel cancer

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

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

A linked risk factor is obesity. According to Cancer Research UK, it is estimated that 11 out of 100 bowel cancers (11 percent) in the UK are linked to being overweight or obese.

Obesity means being very overweight with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. And being overweight is a BMI of between 25 and 30.

Underscoring the point, there is strong evidence which shows that people who are more physically active have a lower risk of bowel cancer.

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