Bowel cancer symptoms – check your poo

2 minute read time.
Bowel cancer symptoms – check your poo

Many people will have been upset and shocked to read of the death of Dame Deborah James last week, writes our nurse Sue Green. Even though Deborah had been very public about receiving end-of-life care, it was still hard to learn that she had died.

Dame Deborah James – BowelBabe

Deborah impacted many people she met during her life. She has inspired even more people with her reach on social media, the 'You, Me & the Big C' podcast and through her book 'F*** You Cancer'. People have said that Deborah has saved their life as she gave them the courage to seek medical advice and talk to someone about that embarrassing topic – poo.

So, what do we need to know about poo, and when to see the GP?

Symptoms of bowel cancer

Symptoms of bowel cancer can vary. But they include:

• a change in your normal bowel habit that lasts longer than three weeks
• blood in or on your poo (stools) – the blood may be bright red or dark
• losing weight for no obvious reason
• pain in your tummy (abdomen) or back passage
• feeling that you have not emptied your bowel properly after you poo
• unexplained tiredness, dizziness or breathlessness

You can hear about some people's symptoms in our video explaining the symptoms of bowel cancer.

These symptoms can be caused by conditions other than bowel cancer, but you should always have them checked by your doctor. If they are due to bowel cancer, then the sooner it is found the better.

Your GP should refer you to a specialist if:

• you have symptoms that do not improve within a few weeks
• your symptoms get worse.

Tests and treatment

Your GP can refer you for tests to see what may be causing your symptoms. Tests may include:

• a rectal examination
• a colonoscopy
• a biopsy
• a blood test

If you are diagnosed with bowel cancer, the doctors will want to find out the stage of the cancer. Your healthcare team will meet to discuss the best treatment for you. This often includes an operation to remove the cancer. You may also be given chemotherapy and radiotherapy. These treatments can be used before or after an operation.

Treatment for bowel cancer can be very successful. The earlier a bowel cancer is diagnosed, the more successful the treatment is likely to be. This is a message Deborah was always keen to promote.

After treatment, you'll be followed up by your medical team.

Bowel cancer screening

Bowel cancer screening aims to find early-stage cancers before they cause any symptoms. If you are aged over 50 to 60 (depending on where you live) and are registered with a GP, you'll be invited for a screening every two years. It's a test you do at home. It might feel embarrassing to do – but it is worth it.

And finally

Deborah James will be missed by all who knew her. But her legacy will continue. Remember her words: 'Find a life worth enjoying; take risks; love deeply; have no regrets, and always, always have rebellious hope. And finally, check your poo – it could just save your life'.