Bowel cancer is one of the most common types of cancer diagnosed in the UK. It begins in the large bowel. Depending on where the cancer starts, bowel cancer is sometimes called colon or rectal cancer. The symptoms of bowel cancer can be subtle and don’t necessarily make a person feel ill.
Bowel cancer can stop digestive waste passing through the bowel
NHS Bowel cancer: The signs in your tummy that could signal the deadly disease
According to the NHS, changes in a person’s tummy can signal the cancer.
The main symptom is abdominal pain, discomfort or bloating always brought on by eating – sometimes resulting in a reduction in the amount of food eaten and weight loss.
People may also experience a constant swelling of the tummy due to a bowel obstruction.
As the NHS explained: “In some cases, bowel cancer can stop digestive waste passing through the bowel.”
A bowel obstruction is a medical emergency, warns the health body.
“If you suspect your bowel is obstructed, you should see your GP quickly. If this isn’t possible, go to the accident and emergency (A&E) department of your nearest hospital,” it said.
Other common symptoms include:
- Persistent blood in the stools – that occurs for no obvious reason or is associated with a change in bowel habit
- A persistent change in your bowel habit – which usually means going more often, with looser stools
As the NHS points out, most people with these symptoms do not have bowel cancer.
Other health problems can cause similar symptoms. For example:
- Blood in the stools when associated with pain or soreness is more often caused by piles (haemorrhoids)
- A change in bowel habit or abdominal pain is usually the result of something you’ve eaten
- A change in bowel habit to going less often, with harder stools, is not usually caused by any serious condition – it may be worth trying laxatives before seeing your GP
These symptoms should be taken more seriously as you get older and when they persist despite simple treatments.
Who it at risk?
While it is not known what causes most bowel cancers, certain factors can increase a person’s risk of getting the disease.
As Bowel Cancer UK explained: “Some of these are things you can’t do anything about, for example, age and genetics. But you can make changes to your lifestyle to lower your risk of getting bowel cancer.”
According to the charity a person is more at risk of getting bowel cancer if they have one or more of the following risk factors:
- Aged over 50
- A strong family history of bowel cancer
- A history of non-cancerous growths (polyps) in your bowel
- Longstanding inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
- Type 2 diabetes
- An unhealthy lifestyle
As the charity explains, having one or more of the above doesn’t mean that a person will definitely get bowel cancer. “Equally, if you don’t have any risk factors, it doesn’t mean you can’t get bowel cancer,” it added.
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