Bowel cancer is one of the most common types of cancer diagnosed in the UK. Fortunately, if it’s detected early enough, treatment can cure bowel cancer and stop it coming back. Recognising the early warning signs is therefore imperative. A number of changes to a person’s stools can signal the deadly disease.
A person may also pass harder stools
According to the NHS, more than 90 percent of people with bowel cancer experience the following changes to their stools:
- Going more often, with looser stools (diarrhoea) and sometimes tummy (abdominal) pain
- Blood in the stools without other piles (otherwise known as haemorrhoids) symptoms is a warning sign. Other symptoms of piles include:
- Bright red blood after you poo
- An itchy anus
- Feeling like a person still needs to poo after going to the toilet
- Slimy mucus in a person’s underwear or on toilet paper after wiping their bottom
- Lumps around a person’s anus
- Pain around a person’s anus
People may also experience constipation, where a person passes harder stools. Although this is rarely a sign of bowel cancer, notes the NHS.
According to Cancer Research UK, other symptoms include:
- A lump that a person’s doctor can feel in their 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 a person’s abdomen or back passage
- Tiredness and breathlessness caused by a lower than normal level of red blood cells (anaemia)
As the charity explains, the symptoms are also associated with other conditions but it’s important a person alerts their doctor if they recognise the warning signs.
Mounting evidence is linking high consumption of red and processed meat to an increased risk of developing bowel cancer. A recent study conducted by Oxford University suggested eating red meat just once a day is enough to raise the risk by a fifth.
The findings, based on a large-scale analysis of 475,581 people aged 40 to 69, found that every 25 grams of processed meat eaten daily – equivalent to a rasher of bacon or a slice of ham – raised the risk of bowel cancer by 20 percent. Every 50 grams of unprocessed red meat – a lamb chop or thick slice of roast beef – saw a similar increase in risk.
The findings challenge official health body guidelines on meat consumption. The Department of Health advises people who eat more than 90g (cooked weight) a day of red and processed meat cut down to 70g a day.
Cancer Research UK’s expert in diet and cancer, Professor Tim Key, who co-authored the study and is deputy director at the University of Oxford’s cancer epidemiology unit, said: “Our results strongly suggest that people who eat red and processed meat four or more times a week have a higher risk of developing bowel cancer than those who eat red and processed meat less than twice a week.
“There’s substantial evidence that red and processed meat are linked to bowel cancer, and the World Health Organisation classifies processed meat as carcinogenic and red meat as probably carcinogenic.
“Most previous research looked at people in the 1990s or earlier, and diets have changed significantly since then, so our study gives a more up-to-date insight that is relevant to meat consumption today.”
According to the NHS, other risk factors include:
- Alcohol consumption
- Digestive disorders
- Genetic conditions
How to treat bowel cancer
Treatment for bowel cancer will depend on which part of a person’s bowel is affected and how far the cancer has spread.
As the NHS explained, surgery is the main course of treatment for bowel cancer and may be combined with chemotherapy, radiotherapy or biological treatments, depending on a person’s particular case.
While early detection can cure bowel cancer, a cure is highly unlikely in more advanced cases that can’t be removed completely by surgery, explains the health body.
A combination of treatments can control symptoms and slow the spread of the disease, however, added the health site.
Bowel cancer symptoms can also be seen in the tummy.
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