Symptoms of bowel cancer | Cancer Research UK

Symptoms of bowel cancer can include a change in your normal bowel habit or blood in your poo. They can also be symptoms for other conditions, but it’s important to see your doctor.

Bowel cancer can start in the large bowel (colon cancer) or back passage (rectal cancer). It is also called colorectal cancer. 

If you notice any possible cancer symptoms or any changes that are unusual for you, contact your doctor because early cancer diagnosis saves lives. Due to coronavirus fewer people are contacting their doctor. Your local surgery is ready to help you safely. They can talk to you by phone or video link and can arrange for tests. Whatever happens, tell your doctor if your symptoms get worse or don’t get better. Early diagnosis saves lives. Contact your GP now or go to CRUK.org/coronavirus for more information.

Possible symptoms of bowel cancer

The symptoms of bowel (colorectal) cancer in men and women can include:

  • bleeding from the back passage (rectum) or blood in your poo
  • a change in your normal bowel habit, such as looser poo, pooing more often or constipation
  • a lump that your doctor can feel in your back passage or tummy (abdomen), more commonly on the right side
  • a feeling of needing to strain in your back passage (as if you need to poo), even after opening your bowels
  • losing weight
  • pain in your abdomen or back passage
  • tiredness and breathlessness caused by a lower than normal level of red blood cells (anaemia)

Sometimes cancer can block the bowel. This is called a bowel obstruction. The symptoms include:

  • cramping pains in the abdomen
  • feeling bloated
  • constipation and being unable to pass wind
  • being sick

A bowel obstruction is an emergency. You should see your doctor quickly or go to A&E at your nearest hospital if you think you have a bowel obstruction.

Clive: I’m Clive Barley I’m from Lytham St Anne’s. I’m a retired HR manager. I was diagnosed in 2003 with bowel cancer.

For some reason I happened to kind of notice that I got blood in the stool one day when I went to the toilet. I kept that to myself but then it continued.

So after it had gone on for about a couple of weeks I did speak to my wife. And through the conversations it’s one of those things that you kind of, I don’t know I guess men are a bit like that aren’t they, in terms of this will go away it will sort itself out.

But with a little bit of persistence, I called it nagging, she said I think you better go and get it checked out. At that time you don’t want to kind of think its cancer because that happens to everybody else and not yourself.

When you have that conversation where the consultant tells you that it was caught in the early stages and it hadn’t spread anywhere else. On reflection you have to look back and say well that discussion that took place with my wife really saved my life.

Certainly going through the experience that I’ve been through I can highly recommend go and see the doctor. The early diagnosis of my cancer has led me on to have a wonderful other 9 years and hopefully a lot more years to come in the future.

Blood in poo

Blood in poo (stools or faeces) can be a sign of bowel cancer. But it is often due to other causes. See your GP if you are worried about any symptoms that you think could be caused by cancer in the bowel.

Most often, blood in the stool is from piles (haemorrhoids), especially if it is bright red, fresh blood. Piles are like swollen veins in the back passage. These veins are fragile and can easily get damaged when you pass a bowel motion, causing a little bleeding.

Blood from higher up in the bowel doesn’t look bright red. It goes dark red or black and can make your bowel motions look like tar. This type of bleeding can be a sign of cancer higher up the bowel. Or it could be from a bleeding stomach ulcer for example.

It is important to go to your doctor if you have any bleeding and get checked.

Your doctor won’t think you are wasting their time. It’s very likely that you’ll have a rectal examination. This means the doctor puts a gloved finger into your back passage and feels for anything abnormal. 

Your doctor might send you to the hospital for further tests.

When to see your doctor

Go to see your GP if you are worried about any of the symptoms mentioned above.

Remember these symptoms can be caused by other conditions. Many of these are much less serious than cancer, such as piles (haemorrhoids), infections or inflammatory bowel disease. 

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