Bowel cancer: Three feelings that come to you when having a poo that can signal the cancer

Cancer symptoms: Top 14 early signs to look out for

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The nation entered a period of mourning on 28 June as news broke that Dame Deborah James had died six years on from being diagnosed with bowel cancer. The journalist connected with the country through her warm, witty and frank honesty about the realities of living with bowel cancer. Her legacy will live on through the many lives she will inevitably save as a result of normalising the conversation around symptoms. Central to Deborah’s effort was to bust the taboo around poo.

Changes in bowel habits are a key feature of bowel cancer and anything unusual for you can be a red flag.

According to Bupa, experiencing three feelings in the run-up to and aftermath of having a poo can signal bowel cancer.

According to Bupa, you may feel like you need to go more often or more urgently or you might feel like you haven’t fully emptied your bowel when you’ve been.

Other worrying bowel changes include:

  • Your poo may be looser (diarrhoea)
  • You may find it harder to go (constipation).

Other symptoms include:

  • Bleeding from your bottom or having blood in your poo. The blood can be bright or dark red on the surface or mixed in with the poo. Or you may notice it in the toilet bowl. Occasionally it can make your poo look black, like tar
  • You might feel extremely tired and weak (fatigued). This can be due to anaemia, which means you have a lower than normal level of red blood cells
  • Pain or discomfort in your tummy (abdomen) or back passage that doesn’t go away
  • Losing weight, when you haven’t been trying.

It’s important to note that having these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean that you have bowel cancer – they can also be symptoms of much less serious conditions.

“But if you have them, especially if they don’t go away and aren’t normal for you, contact your GP,” advises Bupa.

“You should always see your GP if you have blood in your poo.”

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What happens next

The NHS explains: “When you first see a GP, they’ll ask about your symptoms and whether you have a family history of bowel cancer.

“They’ll usually carry out a simple examination of your bottom, known as a digital rectal examination (DRE), and examine your tummy (abdomen).”

According to the health body, this is a useful way of checking whether there are any lumps in your tummy or bottom (rectum).

“The tests can be uncomfortable, and many people find an examination of their bottom a bit embarrassing, but they take less than a minute.”

Are you at risk?

The exact cause of bowel cancer is unknown. However, research has shown several factors may make you more likely to develop it.

Having one or more risk factors doesn’t mean that you will definitely get bowel cancer.

It is very difficult to research the link between diet and cancer. Scientists need to carry out very large studies to see which specific foods might reduce the risk of cancer, and which could raise the risk.

However, researchers have firmly established that some foods affect the risk of bowel cancer.

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

The Government recommends that people eating more than 90g of red and processed meat a day should reduce it to 70g or less. 70g is the cooked weight.

According to Cancer Research UK, obesity is a cause of bowel cancer.

Obesity means being very overweight with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. BMI is a measure of your weight compared to your height.

Other risk factors include:

  • Smoking tobacco
  • Age
  • Alcohol
  • Family history.

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