April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month. In this blog, Vicky from the Cancer Information Development Team talks about her experience of bowel cancer and the importance of spotting it early.

The facts

Bowel cancer, also called colorectoal cancer, is the third most common cancer in the UK. More than 40,000 men and women are diagnosed with the disease every year.

I was diagnosed with bowel cancer when I was 25, but this is very unusual - most bowel cancers (83%) are diagnosed in people over 60.

There are other risk factors associated with bowel cancer, but the cause of it is still unknown. If someone in your family has had bowel cancer and you’re worried about your risk, you may find our leaflet Are you worried about bowel cancer? helpful.

When diagnosed early, bowel cancer is very treatable and can be cured. When it’s diagnosed at a later stage, it can’t always be cured but can often be controlled for some time.

It’s important to be aware of the signs so you can report anything unusual to your GP.

Symptoms of bowel cancer

  • Blood in, or on, your stools (bowel motions). The blood may be bright red or dark in colour.
  • A change in your normal bowel habit (such as diarrhoea or constipation) for no obvious reason, lasting for longer than six weeks.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Pain in the tummy or back passage.
  • Feeling like you’ve not emptied your bowel properly after a bowel motion.
  • Feeling extremely tired.

My bowel cancer caused a blockage in my bowel. This can cause different symptoms to those above, such as:

  • being sick (vomiting)
  • constipation
  • pain in the abdomen
  • a bloated feeling.

If you experience any unusual symptoms, make an appointment with your GP, who can assess you and refer you for further tests if necessary. We have a booklet about having tests for bowel cancer.

A lot of people feel embarrassed talking to their doctor about private things like going to the loo, and they may worry about being examined. Remember, doctors are used to talking to patients about these things every day, and there’s no need to feel awkward. If your doctor does want to examine your back passage, try to relax. It’ll be over quickly and while it may be a bit uncomfortable, it isn’t painful.

Bowel cancer screening for older people

A national screening programme to detect bowel cancer has been introduced in the UK. All men and women aged 60-74 in England and Wales, 50-74 in Scotland, and 60-71 in Northern Ireland, are offered a faecal occult blood (FOB) test every two years.

Our booklet about bowel screening has more information about the test.

Help raise awareness

Just by reading this blog and passing the information on to your family and friends helps to spread awareness of bowel cancer. Other ways you could help include:

  • Letting people know about Bowel Cancer Awareness Month through email, Facebook or Twitter, and signposting anyone who needs information to our  cancer information.
  • Letting people know they can order free publications from be.macmillan.org.uk We have booklets about bowel cancer, screening and having tests for bowel cancer.
  • Telling people about our team of cancer support specialists, who are there to support anyone with questions about cancer.
  • Sharing your story if you’d like to use your experience to help others.

Thank you for reading this blog. Remember, if you need any more information about bowel cancer or living with cancer, our cancer support specialists are here to help. Or you can visit our bowel cancer web pages.

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