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Consultants Corner: Bowel cancer awareness

Doctors from BMI Healthcare share their expertise.

5 April 2019

April is Bowel Cancer Awareness month and we expect the nation will be coming together to help raise funds and awareness of this life threatening condition. Bowel cancer affects tens of thousands of people every year.

BMI Healthcare is committed to raising bowel cancer awareness throughout the UK and we recognise the great need to ensure both men and women are bowel cancer aware. This means knowing the associated risk factors and the signs and symptoms for that crucial early diagnosis. We’ve been speaking to Consultant Laparoscopic, Colorectal and General Surgeon, Mr Andrew Huang, from the Chiltern Hospital to find out what we need to know.

What are the common signs and symptoms of bowel cancer?
The most common signs include:

- A persistent change in bowel habits, especially going more often or looser stools
- Bleeding from the back passage (rectum) or blood in your stools
- A lump that your doctor can feel in your back passage or abdomen (more commonly on the right side)
- A feeling of needing to strain in your back passage (as if you need to pass a bowel motion), even after opening your bowels
- Unexplained weight-loss or tiredness
- Pain in your abdomen or back passage
- A lower than normal level of red blood cells (anaemia)

What should I do if I discover a symptom?
It doesn’t necessarily mean you have bowel cancer. However if you are concerned you should visit your GP right away who will be able to refer you onto a specialist colorectal consultant if they feel further investigation is required.

What are the risk factors I should be aware of?
In some cases you can actively make changes to reduce the risk, such as diet, whereas others are natural or inherited causes. For instance risk tends to increase as people get older or if you have an immediate family member (such as a parent, child or sibling) who has had bowel cancer.

Lifestyle does also play a part but you can influence these factors and therefore potentially reduce risk, the main lifestyle factors are:

- Smoking
- Alcohol consumption
- Inactivity and being overweight
- Processed meats such as ham, bacon, pepperoni, pancetta etc
- Red meat consumption including beef, pork and lamb

What can someone do to reduce the risk of developing bowel cancer?
Research indicates that a high consumption of processed and red meats can cause bowel cancer and high fibre consumption can help protect from bowel cancer.

Being physically active is something else you can do. About 3% of all bowel cancer cases are linked to not doing enough exercise so it is advisable to do around 30 minutes of exercise five times a week.

Evidence also suggests that people with more vitamin D are at lower risk of developing bowel cancer. You get vitamin D from certain foods (such as oily fish and eggs) and the sun

What happens during a bowel screening?
The stool test (Faecal Occult Blood Testing) is available to men and women aged 60-74 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and 50-74 in Scotland, on the NHS bowel cancer screening programme. You will be sent a home test kit every two years through the post, until you reach the age of 74. It simply involves returning a stool sample to be checked for the presence of blood, which could be an early sign of bowel cancer.

Bowel scope screening is offered to men and women at the age of 55 as a one-off test in addition to the stool test. It involves a doctor or nurse using a thin, flexible instrument to look inside the lower part of the bowel, removing any small growths, called polyps that could eventually turn into cancer.

For more information on bowel cancer awareness or our bowel cancer services call 01494 890890 or visit

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