Are you too embarrassed to speak about bowel cancer?

Figures released during Bowel Cancer Awareness Month 2017 (April) suggest four out of 10 people in the UK would be too embarrassed to tell someone if they had one of the warning signs of the disease.

Carried out by private hospital company BMI Healthcare, the survey suggests many men and women could be risking their health because they’re afraid of talking about their bowel habits.

Finding blood in your stool or having irregular bowel habits are two of the key warning signs of bowel cancer. And while the survey also suggests three out of 10 people have or had these or similar symptoms, it also reveals a third haven’t told anyone about it – not even their GP, partner, friend or a member of their family.

The research shows also more than half of people in the UK aren’t sure they know what the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer are (only eight percent said they feel very confident they know the signs and symptoms).

According to BMI Healthcare, the common signs and symptoms of bowel cancer include the following:

  • A persistent change in bowel habits, especially going more often or looser stools.
  • Bleeding from the back passage (rectum) or blood in your stool.
  • 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).

Fourth most common cancer

Bowel cancer can affect anyone of any age (though it’s most common in those aged 60 and older). It’s the fourth most common cancer in the UK and the second biggest cancer killer. But as with many other serious conditions, an early diagnosis can improve your chances of beating the disease. However more than half of bowel cancer cases are diagnosed late, claims BMI Healthcare. This is why it’s important to speak to your GP if you notice any of the above symptoms.

“The risk [of bowel cancer] increases as you get older,” explains Lee Dvorkin, BMI Healthcare’s consultant general and colorectal surgeon. “Other factors thought to increase the risk include smoking, obesity and alcohol, and eating excessive red meat, animal fat and sugar. A reduced risk has been noticed in those who exercise and eat more fibre and pulses (peas, beans, lentils and nuts).

“Bowel cancer is very common so having a relative with bowel cancer is not unusual. The chance of getting bowel cancer goes up only if the family history of it is very strong. A strong family history means having several relatives with bowel cancer, especially if they are particularly young.

“Examples of a strong family history might be having a first-degree relative (a parent or a sibling) diagnosed before the age of 45 or having two first-degree relatives diagnosed at any age. To have a strong family history, the affected relatives must all come from the same side of the family.

“If you have a strong family history of bowel cancer you may need to be referred to a genetics service. You will need to see a bowel specialist for regular colonoscopies to pick up any signs of cancer as early as possible.”

Find out more about bowel cancer as well as Bowel Cancer Awareness Month at Bowel Cancer UK.

Meanwhile, if you’re experiencing bowel problems but you’re not sure you should see your GP, why not ask your Careway pharmacist for advice? Many pharmacies now have private consulting rooms where you can talk without being overheard. And if the pharmacist thinks you should see your GP, they will advise you accordingly.

Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.