It is one of the deadliest cancers, killing nearly 80,000 people in the UK and US annually.
However, as with most tumors, not everyone knows the tell-tale symptoms.
Experts say a lack of awareness can hamper survival rates, with early diagnosis given to beat the disease.
Here, MailOnline highlights the warning signs of bowel cancer so you know when to talk to a specialist.
It comes after BBC Radio 1 DJ Adele Roberts said receiving early treatment helped “save my life”.
The 44-year-old revealed that she was undergoing treatment in October 2021 following her stage two diagnosis.
She later underwent surgery to remove a polyp and began using an ostomy bag. This past June, she announced she was cancer-free.
Bowel cancer can cause blood in your stool, a change in bowel habit, and swelling inside your intestines that can cause a blockage. Some people also experience weight loss as a result of these symptoms
Finding blood in your stool can be worrying.
Bright red blood — indicating it’s fresh — could be due to hemorrhoids.
But drops of blood in the stool can also be caused by non-cancerous growths known as polyps, according to Bowel Cancer UK.
However, dark or black blood may be a sign of cancer. Cancer Research says.
This is because bowel tumors, which are usually found higher up in the digestive tract, can lead to internal bleeding.
Anyone who experiences blood in their stool should consult a doctor to find out why.
Screening programs also check for hidden blood in the stool and also check for polyps as they could develop into cancer.
Change in bowel habit
Changes in usual bowel habits can also be a possible warning sign of bowel cancer.
It could be as simple as needing to go to the toilet more often or feeling as though you’re not completely emptying your bowels.
“One possible indicator of bowel cancer is any significant change in defecation habits – which can vary from person to person,” says colorectal surgeon James Kinross, of King Edward VII Hospital in London.
He added, “For example, defecation more than usual, or having looser stools.
This is more likely to be related to an external factor such as stress, eating more fiber or a change in diet, but it is worth checking yourself if the problem persists.
This change can usually be caused by a tumor causing partial bowel obstruction and constipation.
It can also cause diarrhea if the tumor leaks fluid into your intestines.
Macmillan says a change can happen for no apparent reason, and if it lasts longer than three weeks, you should get it checked out by your GP.
Although an uncommon sign of bowel cancer, unexplained weight loss is still something to watch out for and mention to your GP.
This symptom could be due to a tumor making you feel sick or bloated, says Bowel Cancer UK.
The charity explains that a tumor can also block the intestines, which can cause stomach pain that prevents you from eating.
Dr Kinross said: ‘Abdominal pain can have a wide range of causes from muscle strain to menstrual pain.
But it can also be a sign of bowel cancer.
“Discomfort or bloating that is always caused by eating—which can lead to eating less, and therefore weight loss—is something that needs evaluation by a medical professional.”
Bowel cancer can make you feel tired.
This can be due to the tumor bleeding internally, which can progress to anemia – when there is a shortage of red blood cells in the body.
You may feel very tired and your skin pale due to an indirect effect.
According to Macmillan, anemia can also cause dizziness and shortness of breath.
Tumors often develop into lumps that can be felt. Your doctor may be able to feel the lump, which is more commonly found on your right side, according to Cancer Research UK.
pain or a lump
A lump or pain in the stomach area or back passage is a warning sign of an intestinal polyp.
Your doctor may be able to feel the lump, which is more commonly found on your right side, according to Cancer Research UK.
It may make you feel the urge to strain, even after opening your bowels.
“Although this is likely to be benign, it could indicate a malignant tumor,” said Dr. Kinross.
You should see your doctor if these symptoms do not go away, especially if they affect the way you eat and sleep, says Bowel Cancer UK.
Pain, bloating, and a sick feeling can sometimes be caused by a bowel obstruction, such as a tumor.
Cancer Research UK has warned that people with these symptoms should see their GP straightaway or go to an A&E.
It is usually a sign that the cancer has advanced.
It can occur when a tumor presses on the intestines, or grows into and damages a nerve supply.
“Early detection is one of the best ways to increase the chances of surviving bowel cancer,” says Dr. Kinross.
He added: “And although it may seem awkward to talk about your stools – or bowel habits -, doctors are there to listen confidentially and without judgment.
“Talking to them will allow them to carry out the necessary tests and treat you as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
Colon cancer: What are the warning signs?
Colorectal cancer affects the large intestine, which consists of the colon and rectum.
Such tumors usually develop from pre-cancerous tumors called polyps.
- Bleeding from the bottom
- blood in the stool
- A change in bowel habits that lasts for at least three weeks
- Unexplained weight loss
- Unexplained extreme fatigue
- Stomach ache
Most cases have no clear cause, however, people are at higher risk if:
- Over the age of fifty
- You have a family history of this condition
- Have a personal history of polyps in their intestines
- Have an inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease
- Follow an unhealthy lifestyle
Treatment usually includes surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.
More than nine out of ten people with stage I bowel cancer live for five years or more after their diagnosis.
Unfortunately, only about a third of colorectal cancer cases are diagnosed at this early stage.
The majority of people come to the doctor when the disease has spread beyond the wall of the colon or rectum or to distant parts of the body, which reduces the chance of a successful cure from colon cancer.
According to Bowel Cancer UK figures, more than 41,200 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year in the UK.
It affects about 40 per 100,000 adults annually in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute.