Word on Health

Word On Bowel Cancer Symptoms

Our grateful thanks to Bowel Cancer UK for their input to our 'on-air' report, which you can hear again via the audio player located at the bottom of this page, and for the use of the information below.

Sadly, 44 lives are lost every day to bowel cancer.  It's the second biggest cancer killer after lung cancer - yet recent research suggests,  nearly half of us don't have a clue about the symptoms of bowel cancer. 

Although it can strike at any age, the likelihood of developing bowel cancer increases as we get older wth 8 out 10 cases diagnosed in the over 60's.  The NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme helps save lives - if you've been invited PLEASE take up the offer.   

About the bowel  The bowel has no digestive function, but it absorbs large amounts of water and electrolytes, which help the maintenance of the body’s systems, known as homeostasis. Undigested food is passed on from the small bowel to the large bowel where water is re-absorbed

Cancer occurs when cells in your bowel multiply out of control. These cells can invade surrounding tissue and spread to other parts of the body.

Most bowel cancers develop from polyps which are usually non-cancerous and, once detected, can be removed easily if caught early enough.

The symptoms of bowel cancer can be:

  • A change in your normal bowel habit lasting three weeks or more 
  • Bleeding from the bottom and/or blood in your stools (poo) 
  • Extreme tiredness without obvious cause 
  • A pain and/or lump in your abdomen (belly) 

It is important to remember that most symptoms do not necessarily indicate bowel cancer but are always worth checking with your GP, especially if you are at heightened risk of developing bowel cancer.

Who is 'at risk' of bowel cancer  Although the exact cause of bowel cancer is unknown, there are certain factors that increase your risk

  • Gender & age  Bowel cancer affects both men and women. 95% of all diagnoses are in people over the age of 50. 
  • Family history  People with a family history of bowel cancer are often diagnosed before the age of 45, so may need early screening.
  • Diet & lifestyle  An inactive lifestyle and a low fibre diet can increase the risk of bowel cancer. Red and processed meat, insufficient amounts of fruit and vegetables, smoking and excess alcohol are contributory factors.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease   People with a history of Crohn’s disease in the large bowel, or ulcerative colitis, or who have had previous polyps removed, may also be at an increased risk.

Reducing your risk  A few simple lifestyle changes can help you to reduce the risk of developing bowel cancer.

  • Get to know your bowel pattern, so that you know what's normal for you.
  • Keep to a healthy weight, through regular exercise.
  • Drink plenty of fluids: water, in particular.
  • Eat a diet high in fibre, including at least five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables every day.
  • Limit your consumption of red and processed meat to a maximum of one portion (approximately 80g) per day 
  • Keep alcohol consumption to the recommended maximum of 14 units per week for women and 21 for men.
  • Avoid saturated fats and increase unsaturated fats.
  • Know the symptoms of bowel cancer.
  • Don't smoke.
  • Be aware of your bowel cancer family history. You may be eligible for screening if you have a history.

For more detailed information, help & support please visit the Bowel Cancer UK website


Listen to this weeks radio report

All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being.