Bowel cancer: Dr Hilary outlines the main symptoms
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Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, crops up inside the large bowel, made up of the colon and rectum. The lack of symptoms in the early stages makes identifying the condition harder but time is of the essence when treating the deadly disease. Fortunately, one symptom combination could help spot the condition promptly.
Worryingly, many people with bowel cancer don’t experience any symptoms at the very beginning.
Dr Sara Mesilhy, Gastroenterologist from the Royal College of Physicians UK, said: “When symptoms appear, they’ll likely vary and be non-specific.”
This contributes to the difficulty to identify and diagnose bowel cancer in the early stages.
However, one symptom combination could help ring alarm bells, according to the doctor.
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Dr Mesilhy said: “Rectal bleeding is often the first and most noticeable symptom of bowel cancer.
“The combination of rectal bleeding and a change in bowel habit, or rectal bleeding in the absence of peri-anal symptoms, is believed to be a common mode of presentation.”
Peri-anal symptoms describe issues affecting the area around the anus, ranging from itching to pain.
The reason why it’s important to exclude these problems comes down to conditions like haemorrhoids, also known as piles. These lumps in your bottom can also present with blood just like bowel cancer.
Fortunately, other symptoms of bowel cancer could help to tell cancer apart from other problems.
According to the doctor, some persistent changes in bowel habits to be aware of include diarrhoea, constipation, as well as changes in the consistency of your stool.
The frequency could also hold clues, with some bowel cancer patients needing the loo more often.
When it comes to the prevalence of symptoms, blood in your poo is considered one of the most frequent signs.
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According to the research, published in the journal Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, rectal bleeding occurred in 89 percent of bowel cancer patients.
Looking at 183 participants, the research team found the main symptoms were bleeds followed by other changes in bowel habits.
Dr Mesilhy explained other symptoms of bowel cancer can include:
- Persistent abdominal discomfort (such as cramps, gas, or pain)
- The feeling of incomplete evacuation of the bowel (needing to empty the bowel but nothing passes)
- Weakness or fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss.
The NHS recommends seeing a GP if any symptoms of bowel cancer persist for three weeks or more.
The doctor added: “Although these symptoms may be caused by other, less serious conditions they should not be ignored and should be discussed with a doctor.
“These symptoms should be taken more seriously with the elderly and when they persist despite simple treatments.”
The good news is that there are different treatments available depending on the location of the cancer and how far it has spread.
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