Bowel cancer is one of the most common types of cancer diagnosed in the UK.
It’s also called colorectal cancer, and it affects the large bowel, which is made up of the colon and rectum.
First Dates star Merlin Griffiths, who was diagnosed with bowel cancer last year, went through an operation to get his tumour removed and is now “on the road to recovery”.
In terms of his symptoms, he revealed he “tried to sweep it under the carpet but I should have taken it more seriously”.
“I think it’s very important that people follow up these symptoms. The sooner you catch it, the better it is for you,” he added.
Most people affected by bowel cancer are over the age of 60, but it can affect younger people, too.
Bowel Cancer UK reported last year that two in five people couldn’t name a single bowel-cancer symptom.
However, the NHS has now said that a record number of people in England are having bowel-cancer checks following the death of Deborah James.
According to the NHS, between the months of May and July, 170,500 people referred for checks for suspected lower gastro-intestinal cancers.
Referals are up more than 30,000 compared to the same period in 2021, and nearly 80,000 higher than the same period two years ago.
National cancer director Dame Cally Palmer said: “Thanks to the brave and relentless campaigning of Dame Deborah James, bowel cancer has come to the forefront of a national conversation on catching cancer as early as possible, and the fact that we have seen record numbers of people coming forward for bowel-cancer checks shows people are taking the illness seriously and speaking to their GPs about it.
“It is so important that we continue the work of Dame Deborah to raise awareness of bowel cancer and save more lives, so to anyone who has noticed symptoms, please do come forward.”
Being aware of the symptoms of bowel cancer is crucial, as it can help people get diagnosed early, allowing them to access treatment sooner. Find out what you should know about bowel cancer below.
What are the symptoms of bowel cancer?
The NHS says that more than 90 per cent 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)
abdominal pain, discomfort, or bloating always brought on by eating
The NHS says that constipation is rarely caused by a serious bowel condition.
Deborah James told Bowel Cancer UK that her symptoms included losing weight, passing blood, “going what felt like 100 times per day, and feeling shattered”.
In some cases, bowel cancer can cause bowel obstruction, which is when digestive waste can’t pass through the bowel. Symptoms of bowel obstruction include the following:
intermittent, and occasionally severe, abdominal pain always brought on by eating
unintentional weight loss with persistent abdominal pain
constant swelling of the tummy with abdominal pain
being sick with constant abdominal swelling
The NHS recommends seeing a GP if you have any of the symptoms of bowel cancer for three weeks or more. If you have any symptoms of bowel obstruction, you should go to A&E.
Deborah James aka the Bowel Babe
What are the risks and causes of bowel cancer?
The risk of developing bowel cancer depends on a number of factors, including age, genetics, and lifestyle.
Cancer Research UK says eating too much red and processed meat or eating too little fibre can increase your risk of bowel cancer. Being overweight or obese, smoking, and drinking alcohol are also risk factors.
Family history can also impact your risk of bowel cancer. Cancer Research UK says: “Your risk of bowel cancer is increased if you have a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, child) diagnosed with bowel cancer.”
Some medical conditions, including bowel conditions, can also increase your risk.