Bowel cancer: Lesser known symptoms include stomach pain and fatigue – other signs

Deborah James leaves hospital after bowel cancer surgery

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Doctor Anushka Patchava, Deputy Chief Medical Officer at Vitality, and a qualified medical doctor, said there are several signs and symptoms not to ignore. People with bowel cancer can present with a combination of certain lesser-known symptoms should see a GP. These include blood in your stool, rectal bleeding, persistent change in your bowel habit, lasting more than two to three weeks, unexplained weight loss, anaemia, a lump or pain in your stomach and fatigue.

Doctor Patchava noted that each day, there are as many as 120 new recorded cases of bowel cancer making it one of the most common cancers in the UK.

According to Cancer Research, when diagnosed at its earliest stage, more than nine in 10 people with bowel cancer will survive their disease for five years or more.

Early detection is therefore crucial to a good prognosis. As April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, it provides a critical opportunity to help people spot the signs and symptoms to help with early detection.

She said bowel cancer is a form of cancer that can start either in the large bowel (that is, the intestine and colon) or the rectum.

She explained: “Though it can start in either of these two areas, the most common location for bowel cancer to develop is the rectum

“In the UK bowel cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer, behind breast, prostate and lung cancer, according to cancer research and awareness charity, Cancer Research UK.”

The doctor added: “There’s a common misconception that bowel cancer and colon cancer are different.

“However, colon cancer is actually a subgroup of bowel cancer. Bowel cancer is a term used to refer to cancers which originate within the colon or rectum parts of the large bowel.”

Doctor Patchava said: “Another common misconception is that bowel cancer mainly affects men. With cancers such as ovarian and prostate cancer, there is a predisposition to a particular sex, bowel cancer affects both men and women.

“For both females and males in the UK, bowel cancer is the third most common cancer. This really shows the importance of myth-busting any perceptions that bowel cancer affects just men”.

She noted: “The exact cause of bowel cancer is unknown, however research has demonstrated that certain factors can increase the likelihood of developing this type of cancer.“

These can include things like old age, family history of bowel cancer or having a secondary bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease (a type of bowel disease that causes inflammation of your digestive tract).”

The doctor notes other lifestyle factors that can increase your risk of developing it include: eating lots of processed meat and red meat, smoking, drinking alcohol to excess, and lack of exercise.

She said: “There is no way to prevent bowel cancer, but evidence has shown that you can take some steps to reduce your risk of developing it. While you cannot influence factors such as your family risk of bowel cancer or your age, certain lifestyle changes can reduce your risk.

“I’d recommend speaking to your doctor, as these following measures are not recommended for everyone and each of these carries its own risks and benefits. Stopping smoking and cutting back on alcohol is advised.“

From a nutritional perspective, studies have shown that incorporating fibre-rich foods can reduce your risk of developing colon cancer, a subgroup of bowel cancer.”

The NHS explains: “When you first see a GP, they’ll ask about your symptoms and whether you have a family history of bowel cancer.”

According to the health body, your GP may carry out a number of tests. “They’ll usually carry out a simple examination of your bottom, known as a digital rectal examination (DRE), and examine your tummy (abdomen).”Bowel cancer can be targeted with a range of treatments, based on where your cancer is and how far it has spread.

The NHS explains the main treatments are:

  • Surgery – the cancerous section of bowel is removed; it’s the most effective way of curing bowel cancer and in many cases is all you need
  • Chemotherapy – where medicine is used to kill cancer cells
  • Radiotherapy – where radiation is used to kill cancer cells
  • Targeted therapies – a newer group of medicines that increases the effectiveness of chemotherapy and prevents the cancer spreading.

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