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 three main symptoms of bowel cancer are:
- persistent blood in the stools – that occurs for no obvious reason or is associated with a change in bowel habit.
- a persistent change in your bowel habit – which usually means going more often, with looser stools.
- 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.
The symptoms of bowel cancer can be subtle and don't necessarily make you feel ill. However, it's worth waiting for a short time to see if they get better as the symptoms of bowel cancer are persistent.
Bowel cancer symptoms are also very common, and most people with them don't have cancer.
- blood in the stools when associated with pain or soreness is more often caused by piles (haemorrhoids)
- a change in bowel habit or abdominal pain is usually the result of something you've eaten
- a change in bowel habit to going less often, with harder stools, 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.
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 you're 75 or over, you 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.
Taking part in bowel cancer screening reduces your chances of dying from bowel cancer. Removing any polyps found in bowel scope screening can prevent cancer.
However, all screening involves a balance of potential harms, as well as benefits. It's up to you to decide if you want to have it.
To help you decide, further information can be found below by watching the video or by clicking the links below to be re-directed to more information on bowel screening.
Bowel Cancer Screening - The Facts
Bowel Cancer Screening - The Colonoscopy Investigation