Gut feeling: if you’re worried about bowel cancer, follow your instincts and get screened

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK. Although treatment is successful in 90% of cases if started early enough, it’s still the second biggest cancer killer, accounting for around 16,000 deaths a year. This is largely because many cases go undiagnosed until it is too late as sufferers either do not spot the symptoms or feel embarrassed to go to their doctor earlier.

Bowel Cancer Symptoms

If you have any of the following symptoms, you should see your doctor as soon as possible:

  • Bleeding from your bottom;
  • Blood in your poo;
  • Any changes in your normal bowel movements that continue for three weeks or longer;
  • Sudden and unexplained weight loss;
  • Extreme tiredness;
  • Pain or lumps that you can feel in your tummy

It’s important to remember that having one or more of these symptoms does not automatically mean you have bowel cancer. Try not to worry, but do make an appointment with your doctor to investigate the symptoms further. Don’t put off making that appointment as, if it is bowel cancer, the earlier you start treatment the more successful it is likely to be.

Who’s at risk?

 Age is the main risk factor for bowel cancer, with 95% of cases occurring in people aged 50 and over. Lifestyle is also believed to play a role, with research in Sweden finding that being overweight as a teenager doubles your risk of developing bowel cancer.

If you have several relatives who have been diagnosed with bowel cancer, especially if they are in different generations, this can indicate a strong family history of bowel cancer. And two hereditary conditions (Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP) and Hereditary Non Polyposis Colorectal Cancer (HNPCC), also called Lynch syndrome) can also increase your risk of developing the disease.

Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease are conditions which can increase your risk of bowel cancer and if you have an Ashkenazi Jewish background then you may also have a higher risk of bowel cancer.

Polyps are a growth in the bowel that are not cancerous, although most bowel cancers will develop from one of these polyps, so if you have them you are at an increased risk. Polyps are common, with an estimated 25% of people having at least one polyp by the age of 50 and half of the population having polyps by the age of 70.

Staying a step ahead

Screening for bowel cancer is an effective way of securing an early diagnosis, often before any symptoms have shown. The earlier bowel cancer is diagnosed, and treated, the better your chances of survival: regular bowel cancer screening has been shown to reduce the risk of dying from bowel cancer by 16%.

What does bowel cancer screening involve?

There are a range of different screening options available. Your consultant can discuss and agree with you which would be most appropriate for you:

  • Stool testing - this test works by detecting small traces of blood hidden in your faeces (poo), which can be a sign of bowel cancer;
  • Colonoscopy – by inserting a tiny camera on a long flexible tube through your rectum (back passage), your consultant can examine your bowel and spot potential signs of disease, including polyps. Photographs can be taken and small samples removed to be tested;
  • Virtual Colonoscopy- this option uses a CT (computerised tomography) scanner to create 2D and 3D images of your bowel and rectum to spot potential signs of disease, including polyps;
  • Flexible Sigmoidoscopy – is similar to a colonoscopy, but uses a video camera, enabling your consultant to see into the lower part of the bowel and identify any potential signs of disease.

If you have any concerns about bowel cancer, follow your instinct and get tested. In most cases, your results will be clear, but if further investigations are needed, you can be reassured that you’re acting as early as possible, and improving your chances of successful treatment. Contact one of BMI Healthcare’s Bowel Cancer Screening Clinics for more information.

To book your consultation call us on 0800 157 7747.

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