Bowel cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer in the UK, with over 41,000 new cases diagnosed each year, according to Bowel Cancer UK. Despite this, many cases go undiagnosed for a long time, as the symptoms of the disease can be subtle and don’t necessarily make you feel unwell. Symptoms most commonly affect toilet habits, which can be embarrassing to talk about, so many people who do notice the signs are too embarrassed to discuss them, even with a doctor. During Bowel Cancer Awareness Month in April, Julia Ross, head of Cancer Care at Bupa UK, is urging people to be vigilant on the symptoms and see a doctor with any concerns.
“This Bowel Cancer Awareness Month focuses on highlighting that the disease can affect any of us, regardless of age, gender and background,” Ross told Express.co.uk.
“Early diagnosis and access to treatment is so important for the long-term prognosis and survival rates of bowel cancer, so coming forward with any relevant symptoms is important for everyone.”
According to the expert, recent Bupa research found 45 per cent of Brits have never checked or can’t remember the last time they checked themselves or looked for signs of bowel cancer.
And for those who do spot a potential symptom, more than one in 10 say they’d be too embarrassed to discuss this with a doctor.
“Talking about a symptom may make you feel uncomfortable in the short term, but I’d always encourage people to not delay seeing a health professional if they experience a change to their health that’s unexplained or persistent,” said Ross.
“This will give them either peace of mind or access to the right support and treatment as soon as possible.”
So what are the symptoms of bowel cancer?
According to the NHS, more than 90 per cent of people with bowel cancer have one of three main symptoms.
These comprise a persistent change in bowel habits, blood in the stools, and abdominal pain.
Changes in bowel habits can include needing to go to the toilet more often, stools becoming looser and tummy pain when going to the toilet.
Blood in the stools may be related to bowel cancer if it occurs for no obvious reason or is associated with a change in bowel habits.
Abdominal pain or discomfort may come alongside bloating and is always brought on by eating. This can result in loss of appetite and weight loss.
Other health problems, such as IBS, can cause similar symptoms, so experiencing them doesn’t mean you have bowel cancer.
But the NHS advises seeing a doctor if you have one or more bowel cancer symptoms and they have persisted for more than four weeks.
Even if they are not related to bowel cancer, they be associated with another condition which also needs treating.
Earlier this week, BBC journalist Jeremy Bowen revealed a less typical symptom, unrelated to bowel habits, which led to him being diagnosed with bowel cancer last year.