Bowel cancer is a general term for cancer that begins in the large bowel – the lower part of the bowels whereby water is removed from digested food before it is passed out of the body as solid waste. The symptoms of bowel cancer can be subtle and do not necessarily make you feel ill. However, in some cases, bowel cancer can stop digestive waste passing through the bowel.
What are the main symptoms of bowel cancer?
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.
As the health body points out, constipation, where you pass harder stools less often, is rarely caused by serious bowel conditions.
Most people with these symptoms do not have bowel cancer.
“See your GP if you have one or more of the symptoms of bowel cancer, and they persist for more than four weeks,” advises the NHS.
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.
The link between diet and cancer is ongoing and inconclusive but certain foods have been shown to raise your risk of 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.
Linked to unhealthy eating, the risk of bowel cancer is higher in people who are obese compared to those who have a healthy BMI, warns Cancer Research UK.
The body mass index (BMI) is a measure that uses your height and weight to work out if your weight is healthy.
Obesity means being very overweight with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher.