Bowel cancer awareness month

4 minute read time.

Bowel cancer awareness month

This month is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, a great opportunity to raise awareness of the 4th most common cancer in the UK. This blog explains what bowel cancer is, what the symptoms might be and how you can reduce your risk.

What is bowel cancer?
The bowel is made up of the small bowel (small intestine) and the large bowel (colon, rectum and anus). We have information on what the bowel does here. The term bowel cancer can be used to talk about the following types of cancer:

Know your bowel habits
Bowel cancer can affect your bowel habits – for example, how often you usually need to poo. So, it is important to know what is normal for you. Most people experience some changes, such as constipation or diarrhoea, every now and then. But if these changes last for a few weeks and there is no obvious reason, you should see your GP.

Other changes to look out for

  • blood in or on your poo, or bleeding from the back passage
  • unexplained weight loss
  • pain in your tummy or back passage
  • feeling that you have not emptied your bowel properly after you poo
  • unexplained tiredness, dizziness or breathlessness.

It is important to remember that these changes can be caused by conditions other than bowel cancer, but you should always have them checked by your GP.

Bowel screening
Bowel screening aims to find bowel cancer before symptoms appear. If you are registered with a GP, you will be offered your first bowel cancer screening between the ages of 50 and 60. But sometimes you can be offered it earlier if you have a family history of bowel cancer.

David says: I'm a great believer in any screening they do, because I think prevention is better than cure. I think people should take advantage of all the things that are available

The main tests used in bowel screening check for hidden blood in poo, which can be a sign of polyps (growths) in the bowel or bowel cancer. You do the test yourself at home by collecting a small sample of poo. You then send the sample to a laboratory where it is checked for tiny amounts of blood.

Sometimes a one-off bowel scope screening test can help find polyps and prevent cancer from developing. This is when a doctor or nurse uses a thin, bendy tube with a light and camera on the end to look inside the bowel. Most people find this painless or only mildly uncomfortable, and you can usually go home after it is finished.

If everything is normal, your doctor or nurse can usually tell you straight away. But sometimes they may need to remove polyps or take biopsies during the test. If this happens, the results will be sent to your home address. It can take up to 3 weeks to get your results.

If you have any symptoms of bowel cancer, you should talk to your GP. Do not wait for a screening test. It is much easier to cure bowel cancer if it is found early.

Reducing the risk
You can lower the risk of getting bowel cancer by:

  • eating a healthy diet
  • keeping physically active
  • giving up smoking
  • drinking no more than 14 units of alcohol a week.

Where can I get further information and support?
You can find more information about the NHS bowel screening programmes on their website. We have more information about bowel cancer screening on our website. You can also call our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00. Or, order any of our booklets for free at

Images of Macmillan's colon cancer booklets


To see what else Macmillan's cancer information team has been blogging about, please visit our blog home page! You can subscribe to receive our blogs by email or RSS too.

We're with you every step of the way

The Macmillan team is here to help. Our cancer support specialists can answer your questions, offer support, or simply listen if you need a chat. Call us free on 0808 808 00 00.

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