Bowel cancer is a general term for cancer that begins in the large bowel. Depending on where the cancer starts, bowel cancer is sometimes called colon or rectal cancer.
Bowel cancer is one of the most common types of cancer diagnosed in the UK. Most people diagnosed with it are over the age of 60
Symptoms of bowel cancer
The 3 main symptoms of bowel cancer are:
- persistent blood in your poo – that happens for no obvious reason or is associated with a change in bowel habit
- a persistent change in your bowel habit – which is usually having to poo more and your poo may also become more runny
- persistent lower abdominal (tummy) pain, bloating or discomfort – that's always caused by eating and may be associated with loss of appetite or significant unintentional weight loss
Most people with these symptoms do not have bowel cancer. Other health problems can cause similar symptoms. For example:
- blood in the poo when associated with pain or soreness is more often caused by piles (hemorrhoids)
- a change in bowel habit or abdominal pain is usually caused by something you've eaten
- a change in bowel habit to going less often, with harder poo, is not usually caused by any serious condition – it may be worth trying laxatives before seeing your GP
These symptoms should be taken more seriously as you get older and when they persist despite simple treatments.
When to get medical advice
See your GP If you have 1 or more of the symptoms of bowel cancer and they have persisted for more than 4 weeks.
Your GP may decide to:
- examine your tummy and bottom to make sure you have no lumps
- arrange for a simple blood test to check for iron deficiency anaemia – this can show whether there's any bleeding from your bowel that you have not been aware of
- arrange for you to have a simple test in hospital to make sure there's no serious cause of your symptoms
Make sure you see your GP if your symptoms persist or keep coming back after stopping treatment, regardless of their severity or your age. You'll probably be referred to hospital.