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Bowel Cancer: Symptoms and Treatment

Do you know the symptoms to look out for and how to help reduce your risk?

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, after breast, prostate and lung cancers. It can be treatable and curable if diagnosed early. Nine in ten people with stage 1 bowel cancer survive five or more years after diagnosis, but this number drops when the disease is further developed.

What are the symptoms?

Bowel Cancer UK says symptoms to look out for include:

  • Bleeding from your bottom and/or blood in your poo

  • A change in bowel habit lasting three weeks or more

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason

  • A pain or lump in your tummy

If you have one or more of these symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor and to remember that other health problems can cause similar symptoms.

Click for more info on bowel cancer symptoms.

Why is screening so important?

If you are aged 60–74 in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, or 50–74 in Scotland, you will receive a free NHS bowel cancer screening test in the post every two years. If you are aged 75+ you can ask the NHS for a testing kit every two years via the telephone (0800 0121 833 if you live in Scotland and 0800 707 6060 for England, Wales and Northern Ireland). If you are aged 55, you may be auto invited for a one-off bowel scope screening test if it is available within your area.

Screening is helpful for detecting bowel cancer even before any symptoms might appear when it is easier to treat. It can also prevent bowel cancer from developing in the first place, as it can pick up non-cancerous growths (polyps), which, if untreated, could become cancerous in the future.

The test is simple and can be carried out at home. The test looks for hidden blood in your stool, which can be a sign of bowel cancer. Results are usually with you around two weeks later.

If the results aren’t clear, you may be asked to do the test again. If blood is found in your sample, you may need more tests to take a closer look at what might be causing this. This doesn’t mean someone definitely has cancer, as it could be as a result of a non-cancerous polyp or another health problem. However, it is definitely worth investigating. If it is cancer, the earlier it is diagnosed, the quicker it can be treated and the greater the chance of survival.

How can I reduce my risk of developing bowel cancer?

Although what causes most bowel cancers is unknown, there are some risk factors that can increase a person’s risk of getting the disease. Some you can’t do anything about – for example, age and genetics – but there are some lifestyle changes that can lower your risk of developing bowel cancer.

According to the NHS, here are some of the risks:
Diet - Eating a diet high in red or processed meats and low in fibre can increase your risk. Learn how to fit more veg into your diet here.
Weight - Bowel cancer is more common in people who are overweight or obese
Exercise - Being inactive increases your risk of getting bowel cancer
Alcohol and smoking - It’s believed that a high alcohol intake and smoking may increase your chances of getting bowel cancer

Read more about the risk factors at