Deborah James discusses 'scary' bowel cancer symptoms
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The bowel is part of the digestive system so when cancerous cells divide and multiply in this region, bowel problems often arise. Many of the symptoms bowel cancer show up when having a poo. According to British Council (BC), the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities, how you feel in the immediate aftermath of defecating may signal the deadly disease.
“Some patients with rectal cancer may also experience tenesmus, which means feeling the need to poo even right after pooing,” notes the BC.
According to the information body, “that is because the cancer sitting in the rectum tricks the body into believing that there is still poo there, creating a weird sensation”.
According to the NHS, more than 90 percent of people with bowel cancer have one of the following combinations of symptoms:
- A persistent change in bowel habit – pooing more often, with looser, runnier poos and sometimes tummy (abdominal) pain
- Blood in the poo without other symptoms of piles (haemorrhoids) – this makes it unlikely the cause is haemorrhoids
- Abdominal pain, discomfort or bloating always brought on by eating – sometimes resulting in a reduction in the amount of food eaten and weight loss.
“Constipation, where you pass harder stools less often, is rarely caused by serious bowel conditions,” notes the health body.
According to the NHS, you should see a GP if you have any of the symptoms of bowel cancer for three weeks or more.
“When you first see a GP, they’ll ask about your symptoms and whether you have a family history of bowel cancer.”
Am I at risk?
The exact cause of bowel cancer is unknown.
However, research has shown several factors may make you more likely to develop it.
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Your risk of developing bowel (colon and rectal) cancer depends on many things including age, genetics and lifestyle factors.
It is important to note that having one or more risk factors doesn’t mean that you will definitely get bowel cancer.
Many studies have shown that eating lots of red and processed meat increases the risk of bowel cancer.
According to Cancer Research UK, it is estimated that around 13 out of 100 bowel cancer cases (around 13 percent) in the UK are linked to eating these meats.
Processed meat is any meat that has been treated to preserve it and/or add flavour – for example, bacon, salami, sausages, canned meat, or chicken nuggets.
The government recommends that people eating more than 90g of red and processed meat a day should reduce it to 70g or less.
A linked risk factor to poor diet is obesity.
In fact, “being overweight increases the risk of many types of cancer, including cancers of the bowel, kidney, womb and gullet (oesophagus),” explains Macmillan Cancer Support.
According to the charity, if you are worried about your weight or need more information, talk to your GP or a dietitian.
Other risk factors include:
- Smoking tobacco
- Family history
- Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
- Previous cancer
- Medical conditions
- Benign polyps in the bowel
Bowel cancer – how to treat it
Treatment for bowel cancer will depend on which part of your bowel is affected and how far the cancer has spread.
“Surgery is usually the main treatment for bowel cancer, and may be combined with chemotherapy, radiotherapy or biological treatments, depending on your particular case,” explains the NHS.
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