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Bowel cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in the UK – another reason why spotting symptoms is vital. When a bowel cancer first develops and is small it usually causes no symptoms. Symptoms can also be subtle and don’t necessarily make a person feel ill.
As the tumour grows, the symptoms and signs that develop can vary. This usually depends on the site of the tumour.
But the most common bowel cancer symptoms to first develop are listed by Patient.info. There are five to look out for:
Bleeding from the tumour
You may see blood mixed up with your stools (faeces). It explains: “Sometimes the blood can make the faeces turn a very dark colour.
“The bleeding is not usually severe and in many cases it is not noticed, as it is just a small trickle which is mixed with the faeces.
“However, small amounts of bleeding that occur regularly can lead to anaemia which can make you tired and pale.”
Passing mucus with the faeces
A small amount of mucus in your stool is usually nothing to worry about, advises the Mayo Clinic. Stool normally contains a small amount of mucus – a jellylike substance that your intestines make to keep the lining of your colon moist and lubricated.
But it advises: “Talk to your doctor if you notice an increased amount of mucus in your stool.”
A change from your usual bowel habit
This means passing faeces more often or less often than usual causing bouts of diarrhoea or constipation.
A feeling of not fully emptying the rectum after passing faeces
This is quite common if the tumour is in the rectum, says The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust.
Tummy (abdominal) pains
Persistent lower abdominal pain, bloating or discomfort can be a sign of the disease, says the NHS.
As the tumour grows in the colon or rectum, symptoms may become worse. According to Patient.info these can include:
- The same symptoms as above, but more severe.
- You may feel generally unwell, tired or lose weight.
- If the cancer becomes very large, it can cause a blockage (obstruction) of the colon. This causes severe tummy (abdominal) pain and other symptoms such as being sick (vomiting).
- Sometimes the cancer makes a hole in the wall of the colon or rectum (perforation). If this occurs, the faeces can leak into the abdomen. This causes severe pain.
It’s important to note these symptoms aren’t always linked to bowel cancer.
Bloody diarrhoea with clear slime can be a sign of gastroenteritis (a tummy bug), and a common cause of stomach ache is trapped wind.
But if you experience any of these symptoms, no matter the cause, you should always see your GP.
Cancer Research UK advises: “Even if you’re worried about what the symptom might be, don’t delay seeing them. Your worry is unlikely to go away if you don’t make an appointment.
“The symptom might not be due to cancer. But if it is, the earlier it’s picked up the higher the chance of successful treatment. You won’t be wasting your doctor’s time.”
A person’s diet has been identified as one of the risk factors for developing bowel cancer.
Many studies have shown eating lots of red and processed meat can increase a person’s risk, so it might help to swap red meat for chicken or fish.
You also try using beans and pulses in meals instead of meat.
Eating lots of fibre also reduces a person’s risk of bowel cancer.
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