Expert shares ‘subtle’ symptom of bowel cancer to spot

Bowel cancer: Dr Hilary outlines the main symptoms

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There are almost 43,000 new cases of bowel cancer in the UK every year, making it the fourth most common form of the disease. Also known as colorectal cancer, it most commonly presents with symptoms involving changes in toilet habits. However, there can be more “subtle” signs to look for.

Doctor Robin Clark, medical director at Bupa Health Insurance, spoke with to explain more.

He warned that patients with bowel cancer might experience anaemia – a reduction in the number of red blood cells in the body.

This is because the person could be bleeding internally, and more specifically, bleeding from the tumour.

He said: “There are several more subtle symptoms to look out for.

“A diagnosis of anaemia may be a sign that you’re bleeding internally, even if you haven’t noticed blood in your poo.

“The lack of iron in the body can leave you feeling tired.”

Other signs of anaemia include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Noticeable heartbeats (heart palpitations)
  • Pale skin.

Dr Clark continued: “Weight loss is less common than some of the other symptoms, but bowel cancer can prevent you from being able to absorb all the nutrients from your food.

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“You might not feel like eating if you feel sick, bloated or if you just don’t feel hungry.”

The early signs of bowel cancer

He warned that the disease could cause changes to your stools in its earliest stages.

“Changes in the colour, shape, and texture of your poo that last longer than a few days can reveal signs of infection, digestive issues or more serious problems, such as cancer,” he said.

“Although persistent constipation can be a sign of bowel cancer – having looser stools or feeling the need to go to the toilet more frequently is a more common symptom.

“Other symptoms can include boating, abdominal pain or mucus in the poo.

“Though your toilet habits might make you feel uncomfortable, being in tune with your bowels could be a life saver.

“The most common things to look out for are changes to your toilet habits or poo.

“If you have black or dark red poo, or bloody diarrhoea, you should see your GP urgently.”

He added: “Bowel cancer is one of the most common cancers, so it’s vital to speak to a medical professional if you notice symptoms.

“If anything doesn’t look or feel right, or you’ve noticed an unexplained change of some sort, it’s crucial that you seek medical help immediately, no matter what your age.”

The NHS says bowel cancer can also cause abdominal pain that is always brought on by eating, as well as unintentional weight loss, being sick and constant swelling of the tummy, which are all combined with abdominal pain.

If you are concerned you could have bowel cancer you should speak with your GP.

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