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April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer in the UK, with nearly 42,000 diagnoses every year.

It leads to over 16,500 deaths annually, making bowel cancer the second deadliest cancer.

But, when detected in its earliest stages, nearly everyone survives the disease. Plus, more than half of all bowel cancer cases could be prevented by having a healthier lifestyle.

This Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, we want to talk about the symptoms of the illness, who can get it and how it is tested for and treated.

You can jump to different sections using the buttons or carry on reading for the whole picture.

About Bowel Cancer

The bowel is part of the digestive system. Most bowel cancer develops in the large bowel, which consists of the colon and rectum.

In your colon, your body absorbs water from undigested waste (poo), which is passed through to your rectum, ready to leave your body when you go to the toilet.

Bowel cancer is sometimes called colorectal cancer for that reason.

Cancer occurs when cells in the body develop uncontrollably. These cells can invade healthy tissue or organs and spread around the body.

The Symptoms

Because early detection is so crucial to treatment, knowing the symptoms is vital.

If you experience any of the following, you should arrange to speak with a GP:

  • Bleeding from your bottom
  • Blood in your poo
  • Change in bowel habits – going more often, regular constipation or diarrhoea
  • Losing weight without knowing why
  • Always feeling very tired with no real reason
  • A pain and/or lump in your stomach

Seeing a GP

If you have symptoms, you should arrange to see a GP.

Your Doctor may examine you for lumps. This can involve feeling your stomach or putting a gloved finger in your anus. This can be uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t be painful and will not take long.

Your Doctor may give you a testing kit to use at home. The test involves taking a small sample of your poo and sending it off to be tested.

If any signs of blood are found in your poo, your GP practice will refer you to a specialist hospital team for further tests.


If you are diagnosed with bowel cancer, a specialist will talk with you about what treatment options are available.

The treatment depends on a few things, like the size of the cancer, whether it is in your colon or rectum, and if it has spread to other parts of your body.

The most common treatment is surgery to remove the cancerous cells or growth.

Surgery might be done alongside chemotherapy (medication to target cancer cells throughout your body) or radiotherapy (high-powered beams to target cancer cells in specific areas).

You can read more about bowel cancer treatment options on the NHS website.

Who can get bowel cancer?

Anyone can develop bowel cancer, but the vast majority of new cases – 94% – are in people over 50 years old.

Your risk may be higher if there is a family history of bowel cancer or if you have previously had non-cancerous polyps grow in your bowel.

Other illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis can also increase your risk.


As we mentioned, it’s thought that over half of all bowel cancer cases could be avoided with lifestyle changes. This means you can reduce your risk of developing bowel cancer.

One way is to have a healthy diet. Specifically, cut down on red meat like beef, pork, or lamb and make sure you get enough fibre through whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

What you drink is also essential. Drinking plenty of water and avoiding sugary drinks helps, as does reducing the amount of alcohol you drink.

In fact, 6% of bowel cancer cases are linked to alcohol, and another 7% to smoking. So, quitting smoking and drinking no more than 14 units of alcohol across a week (for men and women) will help reduce your risk.

Maintaining a healthy weight and regular physical activity will also make a difference.


The NHS has a national screening programme to help detect signs of bowel cancer at the earliest possible stage.

More than 9 in every 10 cases of bowel cancer are treatable and curable if found early.

Everybody aged between 60 and 74 is sent a screening kit by the NHS every two years. It’s a quick and easy test you can do in the privacy of your own home.

The NHS is starting to include everyone in their 50s in the screening, so you may receive a kit in the post before you are 60.

The test looks for signs of blood in your poo and can detect tiny amounts before you notice anything is wrong.

Here’s how to use it:

After you turn 74, you won’t be automatically sent screening kits. However, you can still request one every two years by calling the free bowel cancer screening helpline on 0800 707 60 60.

Only about 2 in 3 people who are sent screening kits regularly return them, so to stand the best chance of avoiding bowel cancer, it’s vital to use the kits when you receive them.

Remember, screening is for when you don’t have symptoms. If you do notice any of the signs of possible bowel cancer mentioned earlier, you should contact your GP.


Your specialist team will support you through your diagnosis and treatment and give you the help you need.

In Gosforth and Jesmond, we also have a team of Social Prescribing Link Workers who can provide practical and emotional support to you and those around you.

There are also national cancer charities that offer support and information, including:

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