Written by: Anne Marie Forgarty, RGN
Signs & Symptoms of Bowel Cancer
The symptoms of bowel cancer can be very subtle and may not necessarily make you feel ill. The important thing to remember is to try not to worry and see your GP if you experience any unusual symptoms.
What are the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer?
Signs & Symptoms:
• A noticeable and persistent change in your bowel habit – going to the toilet more often, looser motions or constipation.
• Blood in your poo or bleeding from your rectum.
• Pain or discomfort in your tummy area or rectum.
• A lump in your tummy area or rectum.
• Trapped wind or fullness in your tummy.
• Feeling you have not emptied your bowel fully after going to the toilet.
• Unexplained weight loss.
• Feeling tired and breathless due to anaemia (fewer red blood cells).
All these symptoms can be caused by conditions other than cancer, but it’s essential to go to the GP and get any unusual changes checked out, especially if they go on for more than 4–6 weeks.
Sometimes cancer can cause a bowel obstruction (blockage). If this happens, you may:
• feel constipated and bloated
• have tummy pain
• be sick (vomit).
Screening for Colon Cancer
Medical professionals recommend that someone with an average risk of colon cancer consider screening around age 45. People with an increased risk, such as those with a family history of colon cancer, should consider screening sooner.
Several screening options exist – talk about your options with your doctor, and together you can decide which tests are appropriate for you.
Those aged 60-74 years old will receive a test biannually. Bowel cancer screening could save your life. If you receive a bowel cancer screening test in the post – it’s advisable always to take the test. Early diagnosis can lead to early treatment and better survival rates.
Lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk of colon cancer
You can make small changes to reduce your risk of colon cancer, including:
• Eating a well-balanced diet rich in various fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants, which may influence cancer prevention.
• If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation.
• Stop smoking. Seek help on how to quit if you are struggling. One of the best things you’ll ever do for your overall health is to stop smoking.
• Exercise most days of the week. Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days. If you’ve been inactive, start slowly and build up gradually to 30 minutes. Also, talk to your doctor before beginning any exercise program.
• Maintain a healthy weight.
Just because you may have some symptoms, don’t panic; it could be something else, but always check it out with your doctor.
Regular bowel cancer screening, especially with a family history, is a powerful way to detect cancer early on so that prompt treatment can stop or slow down progression. For the best possible outcome, get screened and stay aware of the symptoms.