'I'm a surgeon – here are three bowel cancer symptoms patients commonly ignore'

Cancer is a potentially deadly disease that occurs when abnormal cells grow and divide in an uncontrolled way. There are more than 200 forms of the disease that can affect the body, depending on where they start.

Among the most common types in the UK is bowel cancer, which accounts for around 11 percent of all cancer diagnoses. It also has a high mortality rate, causing around 16,000 deaths annually.

Therefore, being aware of any of the warning signs of bowel cancer – also known as colorectal cancer – could be life-saving.

One expert spoke exclusively with about some important symptoms of bowel cancer to look out for.

Charles Evans, consultant colorectal surgeon at The Wellington Hospital, warned that some of the key signs are “commonly ignored”.

He said: “Some of the most common symptoms of colorectal cancer are often mistaken for other conditions – which can lead to patients delaying getting them checked out by their GP, or even being ignored completely.”

Charles shared three of these signs to be extra vigilant about. These were:

  • A change in bowel habits
  • Cramping, abdominal pain or bloating
  • Rectal bleeding.

Change in bowel habits

This could easily be mistaken for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

He said: “Mucus in your stool or feeling as if you haven’t finished a bowel movement are often associated with IBS – which is why a persistent change in how often you go to the toilet, such as experiencing diarrhoea, constipation, or a notable shift in stool appearance, can sometimes lead people to think they are suffering with a digestive condition such as IBS.

“If you’re concerned about these changes, especially if they are persistent, you should contact your GP about getting a stool test.”

Cramping, abdominal pain, or bloating

Again these signs could be misdiagnosed as IBS.

Charles continued: “Hormonal changes in women in the lead up to and during their period can also cause these symptoms.

“However, they could also be a sign of colorectal cancer, so it’s important to seek medical guidance if these symptoms persist beyond what’s usual for everyday stomach issues.”

Rectal bleeding

Regularly checking your poo by looking in the toilet bowl is the easiest way to make sure you don’t miss this sign.

“There are numerous harmless causes of rectal bleeding – including diverticular disease (small pockets in the inner lining of the colon), haemorrhoids (piles) or a small tear in the opening of the anus,” Charles said.

“The latter are often caused by hard stools (constipation). However, if you notice bright red or very dark red blood in your stool, it could be a sign of colorectal bleeding, possibly linked to colorectal cancer.

“It’s important to seek advice from a GP if you notice any changes to the colour of your stool, or continuous rectal bleeding – so they can follow the necessary steps to reach a diagnosis.”

The NHS lists symptoms of bowel cancer as:

  • Changes in your poo, such as having softer poo, diarrhoea or constipation that is not usual for you
  • Needing to poo more or less often than usual for you
  • Blood in your poo, which may look red or black
  • Bleeding from your bottom
  • Often feeling like you need to poo, even if you’ve just been to the toilet
  • Tummy pain
  • A lump in your tummy
  • Bloating
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Feeling very tired for no reason.

The health body says you should see your GP if you have any symptoms of bowel cancer for three weeks or more.

You should call 999 if:

  • You’re bleeding non-stop from your bottom
  • There’s a lot of blood, for example, the toilet water turns red or you see large blood clots.


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