Bowel cancer symptoms: Study pinpoints most common ‘alarm’ symptom – what to look for

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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. The advice for bowel cancer is the same as other forms of cancer – act on the warning signs as soon as they appear.
Research published in the journal Family Practice sought to establish the prevalence of different symptoms associated with bowel cancer.

To gather their findings, a nationwide study of 100000 adults, aged 20 years and older, were randomly selected in the general population and invited to participate in an internet-based survey.

Mentions of specific and non-specific alarm symptoms of bowel cancer within the preceding four weeks were recorded.

The researchers found abdominal pain to be the most common specific alarm symptom and tiredness was the most common non-specific symptom.

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Other possible warning signs are associated with a persistent change in bowel habit.

According to the NHS, this could mean pooing more often, with looser and runnier poos.

“Constipation, where you pass harder stools less often, is rarely caused by serious bowel conditions,” explains the heath body.

It adds: “See a GP if you have any of the symptoms of bowel cancer for three weeks or more.”

Bowel cancer treatment

Treatment for bowel cancer will depend on which part of your bowel is affected and how far the cancer has spread.

“The main treatments are chemotherapy, surgery, radiotherapy and chemoradiotherapy,” explains Cancer Research UK.

Am I at risk?

Your risk of developing bowel 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.

Many studies have shown that eating lots of red and processed meat increases the risk of bowel cancer.

“It is estimated that around 13 out of 100 bowel cancer cases (around 13 percent) in the UK are linked to eating these meats,” reports Cancer Research UK.

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:

  • Age
  • Family history
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Obesity.

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