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Bowel cancer is often though of as an illness that only affects older people, but more than 2,400 people under 50 are diagnosed each year in the UK.
And overall, it’s thought to be the second biggest cancer killer, with 16,000 people dying from the disease each year.
Whatever your age, it’s crucial to be aware of the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer, so that you know when to ask for help.
Bowel cancer symptoms can often be mistaken for other conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome or haemorrhoids, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not worth investigating. Here’s what you need to know…
Bowel cancer symptoms
Gail Curry, Head of Health Promotion & Training at Bowel Cancer UK, says that the most common bowel cancer symptoms are:
- Bleeding from your bottom and/or blood in your poo
- A change in bowel habit lasting for three weeks or more
- Unexplained weight loss
- Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason
- Pain or lump in your tummy
However, there are several lesser known symptoms of bowel cancer that you should also be aware of.
“Sometimes, a tumour can block the bowel, causing sudden strong pains in the stomach area, bloating and feeling or being sick,” Gail explains. “You may also be unable to empty your bowels or pass wind. If you think you have any of these symptoms, see your GP straight away or go to a hospital accident and emergency department.”
“Not everyone with bowel cancer will have obvious symptoms; sometimes they can be subtle or vague in nature. If you are worried about any bowel symptoms or if things just don’t feel right you should visit your GP.”
Risk factors for bowel cancer
Although you can get bowel cancer at any age and under any circumstances you have a higher risk of developing bowel cancer if you:
- Are over 50
- Have a strong family history of bowel cancer
- Have a history of non-cancerous growths (polyps) in your bowel
- Have a long standing inflammatory bowel diseases (such as Crohn’s disease)
- Have type 2 diabetes
- Have an unhealthy lifestyle
Conditions with symptoms like bowel cancer
Bowel symptoms are common, but most people with bowel symptoms won’t have bowel cancer. Gail notes that there are a range of other health problems like Irritable Bowel Syndrome or haemorrhoids that can cause similar symptoms, meaning that signs of bowel cancer can sometimes be missed or mistaken.
Patients with IBS may experience abdominal pain, fatigue, loss of appetite, and a swollen stomach. Haemorrhoids, also called piles, are veins in the rectum and anus that become infected and swollen. Haemorrhoids may occur externally at the anal opening, or internally at the rectum. When left untreated, haemorrhoids can cause pain and discomfort, rectal bleeding, and itchiness.
If you have any symptoms, don’t be embarrassed and don’t ignore them – doctors are used to seeing lots of people with bowel problems. And it’s even more important to bear in mind that bowel cancer is very treatable if diagnosed earlier.