Bowel cancer symptoms: Three ‘subtle’ warning signs to watch out for
Bowel cancer describes cancer that begins in the large bowel. Depending on where the cancer starts, bowel cancer is sometimes called colon or rectal cancer. If it’s detected early enough, treatment can cure bowel cancer and stop it coming back. It is therefore essential to spot the warning signs, however subtle they may seem.
Constipation is rarely caused by serious bowel conditions
According to Macmillan UK, these subtle symptoms can signify bowel cancer:
- Unexplained tiredness
According to Bowel Cancer UK, tiredness may signal the bowel cancer has lead to a lack of iron in the body, which can cause anaemia (lack of red blood cells).
“If you have anaemia, you are likely to feel very tired and your skin may look pale,” noted the charity.
According to the NHS, the most common symptoms of bowel cancer are:
- A persistent change in bowel habit – going more often, with looser stools and sometimes tummy (abdominal) pain
- Blood in the stools without other piles (haemorrhoids) symptoms – 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,” noted the the health body.\
Find out the major yet often misdiagnosed symptom here.
If a person experiences one or more of the symptoms of bowel cancer, and they persist for more than four weeks, they should see their GP, advised the NHS.
While is not clear what causes bowel cancer, certain lifestyle factors may increase a person’s risk.
A growing body of evidence points to the dangers of eating an unhealthy diet.
A recent population study revealed a link between eating “inflammatory diet” and a heightened risk of bowel cancer.
An inflammatory diet is usually characterised by the consumption of refined carbohydrates, red and processed meat, and saturated or trans fats.
“We have observed an association between the risk of developing colorectal cancer and the inflammatory potential of the diet. That is, the participants who followed an inflammatory diet had almost twice the risk of developing colorectal cancer, which is the fourth most frequent cancer worldwide,” explained Dr. Mireia Obón, lead author and head of the colorectal cancer research group at IDIBELL-ICO.
According to the NHS, other risk factors include:
- Age – almost nine in ten cases of bowel cancer occur in people aged 60 or over
- Weight – bowel cancer is more common in people who are overweight or obese
- Exercise – being inactive increases a person’s risk of getting bowel cancer
- Alcohol – drinking alocohol might increase your risk of getting bowel cancer
- Smoking– smoking may increase your chances of getting bowel cancer
- Family history – having a close relative (mother or father, brother or sister) who developed bowel cancer under the age of 50 puts a person at a greater lifetime risk of developing the condition; screening is offered to people in this situation, and a person should discuss this with their GP
Some people also have an increased risk of bowel cancer because they have another condition, such as extensive ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease in the colon for more than 10 years, notes the health site.
Although there are some risks a person can’t change, such as a person’s family history or their age, committing to a healthier lifestyle can reduce their risk, it added.
Bowel cancer screening
To detect cases of bowel cancer sooner, the NHS offers two types of bowel cancer screening to adults registered with a GP in England:
- All men and women aged 60 to 74 are invited to carry out a faecal occult blood (FOB) test. Every two years, they’re sent a home test kit, which is used to collect a stool sample. If a person is 75 or over, they can ask for this test by calling the freephone helpline on 0800 707 60 60.
- An additional one-off test called bowel scope screening is gradually being introduced in England. This is offered to men and women at the age of 55. It involves a doctor or nurse using a thin, flexible instrument to look inside the lower part of the bowel.
However, as the NHS points out, no screening test is 100 percent reliable. “It’s up to you to decide if you want to have it,” it said.
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