5 ways to reduce your risk of bowel cancer

Did you know that in the UK someone dies of bowel cancer every 30 minutes1? However, 54% of bowel cancers are actually preventable2. Make sure you're aware of the signs and symptoms, as well as how you can reduce your risk of developing the disease.

110 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer everyday – that’s someone every 15 minutes.2

Facts about bowel cancer

Not only is bowel cancer the 4th most common cancer in UK, but it’s actually the 2nd biggest killer2. In fact, 1 in 14 men and 1 in 19 women will get bowel cancer in their lifetime2. Being aware of the signs and symptoms, and getting an early diagnosis is so important when it comes to beating the disease.

There are five things you can do to help prevent developing bowel cancer. Here's how:

  • Eating a high fibre diet. Statistics show that 12% of bowel cancers are associated with not eating enough fibre2. Foods that are rich in fibre can help to move waste through your digestive system faster and reduce issues such as constipation and inflammation. High fibre foods include; fruit, vegetables, beans, pulses, nuts and wholegrains. You should aim to eat around 30g of fibre every day3.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight. If you’re overweight or obese, you are at an increased risk of bowel cancer. This is even more common in men. As 13% of bowel cancers are linked to being overweight, keeping your body weight at a healthy level is really important2. Vigorous exercise can actually help to reduce the risk of obesity-related bowel cancer4.

  • Eating less processed foods and meat. With 21% of bowel cancers linked to over-consuming processed and red meat, watching what you eat is of high importance. Processed meat actually has the same cancer-causing classification as smoking. In fact, there would be 8800 fewer cases of bowel cancer a year if no-one ate processed or red meat2. This doesn’t mean that you need to stop eating processed and red meat altogether, but instead limit the amount you eat to 500g or less a week.

  • Drinking less alcohol. Consuming too much alcohol can also increase your risk of bowel cancer. It’s estimated that 11% of bowel cancer cases are linked to alcohol,  so it’s best to stick to the recommended daily allowances; no more than 14 units per week5. However, the more you cut down, the more you decrease your risk.  
  • Stop smoking. Smokers are more likely to develop bowel cancer with an estimated 8% of cases linked to smoking cigarettes5. Aside from bowel cancer prevention, stopping smoking has a vast array of health benefits and a decreased risk of developing a range of diseases.
  • Get screened. The earlier you catch bowel cancer, the more treatable it is. But did you know that you’re entitled to a free bowel scope screen on the NHS at aged 55? And between the ages of 60 and 74 (50 and 74 in Scotland) you will be entitled to a bowel cancer stool test every two years. This is an easy and non-invasive test that can be done at home, so it’s important not to put it off.
Common signs and symptoms
  • A persistent change in bowel habits, especially going more often or looser stools
  • Bleeding from the back passage (rectum) or blood in your stools
  • A lump that your doctor can feel in your back passage or abdomen (more commonly on the right side)
  • A feeling of needing to strain in your back passage (as if you need to pass a bowel motion), even after opening your bowels
  • Unexplained weight-loss or tiredness
  • Pain in your abdomen or back passage
  • A lower than normal level of red blood cells (anaemia)

If any of the above symptoms persist for three weeks or more they shouldn't be ignored. Make an appointment with your GP or one of our consultant specialists.

Screening can detect bowel cancer even before symptoms are noticed and can also help prevent bowel cancer from developing. If you decide to get screened, there are a number of different screening options available.

Here are the different screening options available
  • Stool testing - this works by detecting small traces of blood in your faeces, which can be an indicator of bowel cancer. 
  • Colonoscopy - this is where a tiny camera on a long flexible tube is inserted through your rectum. This allows your consultant to examine your bowel and spot potential risks of bowel cancer developing, including polyps. They can take photographs and small samples can be removed for testing.
  • Virtual colonoscopy - this screening option uses a CT scanner to create 2D and 3D images of your bowel and rectum to spot possible signs of disease.

If you’re worried at all about bowel cancer, don’t put off getting tested. In most cases, results will be clear. However, if any further investigations are needed, it’s important to remember that acting early is one of the most powerful ways of improving your chances of successful treatment.

Find out more by watching our video on being bowel cancer aware.


For more information on bowel cancer symptoms, prevention and advice, contact one of BMI Healthcare’s Bowel Cancer Screening Clinics or download our free guide

To find out more call us on 0800 157 7747
or make an online enquiry.

1 https://www.bowelcanceruk.org.uk/order-your-2018-bcam-pack/
2 https://www.bmihealthcare.co.uk/be-bowel-cancer-aware - statistics included within video
3 https://www.bowelcanceruk.org.uk/about-bowel-cancer/risk-factors/reducing-your-risk/diet/
4 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1856517/
5 https://www.bowelcanceruk.org.uk/about-bowel-cancer/risk-factors/reducing-your-risk/alcohol/


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