Bowel cancer, sometimes called colon or rectal cancer, can be difficult to spot because symptoms can be subtle and don’t necessarily make you feel unwell. But some of the main symptoms of the disease to recognise affects a person’s bowel habits.
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Alongside abdominal pain, discomfort or bloating, the way a person’s stools look can help identify bowel cancer.
According to Mayo Clinic, narrow stools is a sign to watch out for.
It explains: “Narrow stools that occur infrequently probably are harmless.
“However in some cases, narrow stools – especially if pencil thin – may be a sign of narrowing or obstruction of the colon due to colon cancer.”
Other conditions can causes changes in the size of a person’s stools.
Mayo Clinic adds: “Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is another condition that may cause changes in the size of your stools, so that they’re smaller, larger or narrower than usual.
“IBS also causes changes in the consistency of stools.
“Check with your doctor if you notice any changes in your bowel habits – such as narrower than normal stools – that last longer than one to two weeks.
“Consult your doctor immediately if your bowel changes are accompanied by rectal bleeding or severe abdominal pain.”
Other symptoms of bowel cancer to look out for
The NHS says more than 90 percent of people with bowel cancer have one of the following combinations of symptoms:
- A persistent change in bowel habit – posing more often, with looser, runnier poos and sometimes tummy (abdominal) pain
- Blood in the poo without other symptoms of piles (haemorrhoids) – this makes it unlikely the cause is haemorrhoids
- Abdominal pain, discomfort or bloating always brought on by eating – sometimes resulting in a reduction in the amount of food eaten and weight loss
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The health body notes constipation, where you pass harder stools less often, is rarely caused by serious bowel conditions.
Bowel cancer screening
In England, everyone aged 60 to 74 who’s registered with a GP is eligible for NHS bowel cancer screening.
Screening involves a home testing kit where a person then sends off poo samples to be tested for blood.
This can help detect bowel cancer before symptoms appear.
Bowel cancer treatment
Treatment for bowel cancer will depend on a number of things, advises Cancer Research UK:
- Where your cancer is
- How far it has grown or spread (the stage)
- The type of cancer
- How abdominal the cells look under a microscope (the grade)
- Your general health and level of fitness
The main treatments for bowel cancer that hasn’t spread are surgery and chemotherapy.
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