Bowel cancer symptoms: The two ‘most common’ changes in your bowel habits to look out for

Bowel cancer symptoms explained by Doctor Richard Roope

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Bowel cancer is one of the most common types of cancer diagnosed in the UK, so spotting symptoms is important. Professor Gordon Wishart from Check4Cancer told Express Health changes in bowel habits are the single most common symptom.

And the two most common changes are as follows: “Passage of more frequent, looser stools or development of constipation and blood in the stools.”

Professor Wishart continued: “The blood can be fresh (red) and sometimes mixed with mucus or alternatively it can make the faeces black and tar-like.”

Blood in stools can be alarming, but rectal bleeding can also be caused by a number of benign conditions including haemorrhoids (piles) and inflammatory bowel disease.

“But if you notice any of these symptoms you should get them checked by your GP,” advised Professor Wishart.

Not all symptoms of bowel cancer are linked to the bowel, according to Professor Wishart.

He said: “More general symptoms include abdominal swelling or pain, unexplained weight loss, anaemia or extreme tiredness.”

If you have any of the symptoms of bowel cancer for three weeks or more you should see a GP.

A GP may then decide to examine your tummy and bottom, arrange for a simple blood test, or arrange for you to have a simple test in hospital.

The NHS offers two types of bowel cancer screening to adults registered with a GP in England:

All men and women aged 60 to 74 are invited to carry out a FIT or FOB test. Every 2 years, they’re sent a home test kit, which is used to collect a poo sample. If you’re 75 or over, you can ask for this test by calling the freephone helpline on 0800 707 60 60.

An additional one-off test called bowel scope screening is gradually being introduced in England. This is offered to men and women at the age of 55. It involves a doctor or nurse looking inside the lower part of the bowel using a camera on the end of a thin, flexible tube.

Taking part in bowel cancer screen reduces your risk of dying from bowel cancer.

So can you prevent bowel cancer?

The exact cause of bowel cancer isn’t known, but experts say a number of things can increase your risk. These include:

  • Age – almost 9 in 10 people with bowel cancer are aged 60 or over
  • Diet – a diet high in red or processed meats and low in fibre can increase your risk
  • weight – bowel cancer is more common in overweight or obese people
  • exercise – being inactive increases your risk of getting bowel cancer
  • alcohol – drinking alcohol might increase your risk of getting bowel cancer
  • smoking– smoking may increase your chances of getting bowel cancer
  • family history – having a close relative (mother or father, brother or sister) who developed bowel cancer under the age of 50 puts you at a greater lifetime risk of developing the condition; screening is offered to people in this situation, and you should discuss this with a GP

Bur Bowel Cancer UK offers some ways you can reduce your risk.

The charity advises: “Scientists believe around half (54 percent) of all bowel cancers could be prevented by having a healthier lifestyle.”

You can reduce your risk by:

  • Avoiding processed eat and limiting red meat
  • Eating plenty of fibre from wholegrains, pulses, veg and fruit
  • Being a healthy weight
  • Being more physically active
  • Reducing your alcohol intake
  • Stopping smoking

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