Spotting the signs of bowel cancer can save your life

April 2016

Consultant colorectal surgeon Mr David McArthur is calling on people to recognise the symptoms of bowel cancer so they are able to act quickly if they spot anything out of the ordinary and stresses that early treatment could mean the difference between life and death.

He belives that people should be aware of what is normal so they can then recognise any changes.

Figures provided by Cancer Research show that over 93 per cent of people diagnosed with bowel cancer at an early stage survive for at least five years compared with less than 7% of those diagnosed at a late stage

Mr McArthur, who practices at Spire Parkway Hospital in Solihull, said: “If you know what is normal you can then act if something out of the ordinary happens. A change in your bowel habit that lasts for three weeks or more and blood in your poo are warning signs that need acting upon as soon as possible.”

Other signs include unexplained weight loss, feeling tired without reason, stomach pains or a lump in the stomach.

Patients who have bowel symptoms should be assessed in clinic by a colorectal surgeon, and are then usually investigated with either a colonoscopy (flexible camera test of the bowel) or CT scan.

Another route to have such investigations is through the National Bowel Cancer Screening Programme where patients between the age of 60 and 74 are invited to participate every two years, with the aim of picking up colorectal cancer at an early stage before symptoms begin.

Mr McArthur added: “In many cases there is not a clear cut reason why some people develop bowel cancer, but you can reduce your personal risk of developing cancer by making some simple lifestyle choices.”

  • Stop smoking: Long-term smokers are more likely than non-smokers to develop bowel cancer.
  • Watch your weight: After not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight is the most important thing you can do for cancer prevention.
  • Cut down on alcohol: Bowel cancer has been linked to a heavy intake of alcohol. The more you cut down, the more you reduce your risk.
  • Exercise regularly: Besides using up extra calories and helping you avoid gaining weight, being physically active also helps food to move through your digestive system more quickly.
  • Eat healthily: Make sure you eat plenty of dietary fibre from whole grains, seeds, fruit and vegetables. This helps to move waste quickly through your digestive system. Also drink plenty of water.

“More than 16,200 people in the UK died of bowel cancer in 2012. Bowel Cancer Awareness Month is a good time to let people know they can actually do positive things to improve their health while also to get across the message that early detection really does make a massive difference to the success of treatment,” said Mr McArthur.

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