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Bowel Cancer - Symptoms and Screening

Every 15 minutes, someone in England and Wales is diagnosed with bowel cancer making it the third most common cancer in the UK.  However it’s highly treatable when detected in the early stages, which is why it’s so important that people are diagnosed as soon as possible.

Symptoms of bowel cancer can include:

  • Bleeding from your bottom or blood in your stool
  • A change in bowel habit lasting three weeks or more (looser, more frequent, less frequent or just different)
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason
  • A pain or lump in your tummy

The vast majority of patients with these symptoms don’t have bowel cancer but will have more irritating, ‘minor’ conditions instead which can be easily treated. However, if you have one or more of these, or if things just don’t feel right, you should be assessed and investigated – please obtain a referral from your GP for one of our specialists

Bleeding

Bleeding is common and there are several possible causes of bleeding from your bottom or blood in your bowel movements. Bright red blood may come from swollen blood vessels (haemorrhoids or piles) or a small tear (anal fissure) in your back passage. Dark red or black blood may come from higher up your bowel or stomach.

Change in bowel habit

If you have noticed any changes in your bowel habit that have lasted three weeks or more, especially if you also have bleeding from your back passage then you should be investigated. Changes that warrant investigation include increased or reduced frequency of going to the toilet. You may have a looser stool or have difficulty or incomplete sensation of emptying.

Weight loss

This is less common than some of the other symptoms. Speak to your GP if you have lost weight and you don’t know why. You may not feel like eating if you feel sick, bloated or if you just don’t feel hungry.

Tiredness

Bowel cancer may cause blood loss resulting in anaemia (lack of red blood cells). If you have anaemia, you are likely to feel very tired and your skin may look pale.

Pain or lump

You may have pain or a lump in your stomach area (abdomen) or back passage. See your GP if these symptoms don’t go away or if they’re affecting how you sleep or eat.

Bowel cancer screening - prevention is better than cure:

What does the bowel cancer screen involve?

Our consultants will meet you to discuss the potential risks and benefits and go through the options of screening including stool, endoscopic and CT. The key investigations will be a colonoscopy and/or a CT scan

Benefits of bowel cancer screening

Screening in patients without any symptoms may also pick up pre-cancerous growths (polyps), which could become cancerous in the future. Taking part in bowel cancer screening is the best way to get diagnosed early.

Who should be screened?

Bowel screening works well at reducing deaths from bowel cancer in people in their 50s, 60s and early 70s. As bowel cancer is rare in younger people, screening is only recommended in these patients in special circumstances.

Risks of bowel cancer screening:

Bowel cancer screening works well in finding cancer early but it is not perfect. 

False positive result 

This means that the tests pick up something even though the person doesn't have cancer. This can cause anxiety and lead to further tests. 

False negative result 

Rarely, screening tests miss a cancer. It is important to know the symptoms of bowel cancer and see your GP if you have any symptoms. 

Overdiagnosis 

There is a small chance that some people may be diagnosed and treated for bowel growths that would not have caused any harm. 

Damage to the bowel wall

Screening is usually very safe, but in rare cases it can damage the bowel wall. There is a low risk of serious bleeding or a small tear in the bowel wall. If this happens, you will need to stay in hospital and may need an operation to repair the bowel. 

Our consultants will be happy to discuss things further with you.

Bowel Cancer - Symptoms and Screening Consultants

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