April is Bowel Cancer Awareness month and I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about this because if you are aware of the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer, it can be detected early, preventing a late diagnosis.
Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, with a diagnosis being made every 15 minutes. It’s more common in over 50’s but can occur at any age. Around 268,000 people in the UK currently have a diagnosis of bowel cancer.
If diagnosed early, almost everyone survives bowel cancer, however this drops significantly if the disease is left untreated and the cancer develops.
Being aware of the signs and symptoms and visiting your GP early can save lives.
The symptoms of bowel cancer include:
- Bleeding from your bottom and/or blood in your poo
- A persistent and unexplained change in bowel habit
- Unexplained weight loss
- Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason
- A pain or lump in your tummy
Most people with these symptoms don’t have bowel cancer, other health problems can cause these symptoms. But if you have one or more of these symptoms visit your GP who will be able to advise you further.
If you do have a medical problem your GP would want to see you, the earlier you get a diagnosis, the better the chance of successful treatment and cure.
Before you go to your doctor, make a note of any changes in your bowel habits or any other symptoms. Keeping a diary of your symptoms can help you remember the details when you’re speaking to your GP. See your GP within three weeks of noticing any change in your bowels. If you have any bleeding from the opening of your back passage you should see your GP straight away.
Bowel cancer starts when cells in the bowel lining are damaged and then grow uncontrollably, forming a tumour. There are lots of different reasons why bowel cancer develops, some of the most important factors are diet and lifestyle.
With any type of disease prevention is key, there are some lifestyle risk factors which could increase the chances of developing bowel cancer such as being overweight, smoking and drinking alcohol. Other factors include age, family history and a long-standing history of inflammatory bowel disease.
Taking part in bowel cancer screening vastly reduces your chances of dying from bowel cancer. All men and women aged 60-74 are invited to carry out a FIT or FOB test. Every two years you will be sent a home test kit, which will be used to collect a poo sample. If your over 75, you can ask for this test by calling the freephone helpline on 0800 707 60 60.
If you are sent the screening kit, I strongly advise that you take up the offer. It’s likely that everything is normal, however if the early signs of bowel cancer are present, we can be proactive with further tests and treatment.
Sources of support and advice include:
Bowel Cancer UK: Bowel Cancer awareness month
Cancer Research UK: Bowel Cancer information and support
Cancer Research UK: Cancer Screening