Bowel cancer, as the name suggests, begins in the large bowel – a part of the digestive system that includes the colon and rectum. Due to the cancer’s location, it often interferes with bowel habits, although the symptoms can be hard to spot. Research published in the journal Family Practice sought to identify the most common indicators of bowel cancer.
- Blood in the poo when associated with pain or soreness is more often caused by piles (haemorrhoids)
- 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 a GP.
“These symptoms should be taken more seriously as you get older and when they persist despite simple treatments,” adds the NHS.
Although, it advises people should see a GP If they have any of the symptoms of bowel cancer for three weeks or more.
How to reduce your risk
The exact cause of bowel cancer is not known, but there are a number of things that can increase your risk.
Your risk of developing bowel (colon and rectal) cancer depends on many things including age, genetics and lifestyle factors.
Having one or more risk factors doesn’t mean that you will definitely get bowel cancer, however.
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.
Other risk factors include:
- Being overweight and obese
- Physical activity
- Smoking tobacco
- Family history
- Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
- Previous cancer
- Medical conditions
- Benign polyps in the bowel
How is it treated?
Your treatment depends on the stage and whether you have colon or rectal cancer, notes Cancer Research UK.
“The main treatments are chemotherapy, surgery, radiotherapy and chemoradiotherapy,” adds the charity.