Four in 10 Brits don’t know the signs of bowel cancer

Research for the charity Red Trouser Day suggests many people in this country feel awkward opening up about bowel cancer, with many admitting they don’t know the signs to look for. And it could be putting lives at risk, experts from the charity claim.

The survey has revealed the following:

  • 40 percent of Brits don’t know how to check for cancer symptoms.
  • 41 percent of UK adults would be happy talking to an ex partner in the street and 47 percent don’t mind talking about religion – but only 38 percent would be willing to have a conversation about cancer.
  • 30 percent don’t talk about cancer because they don’t want to have to think about such a difficult topic (this figure rises to almost 40 percent in 35-44-year-olds).

“Whilst talking about cancer isn’t the most awkward of actions – that’s reserved for admitting that you don’t like your haircut – it’s still too high up the list,” says Paul Finch, Red Trouser Day’s CEO. “Over a third of people will be affected by cancer at some stage in their lives, so it’s vital that we get more comfortable talking about the disease itself, and the symptoms, so that we can detect and tackle it faster.

“You might think it’s awkward talking about the symptoms of bowel cancer – they’re quite similar to IBS, but can also include maroon-coloured poo,” he adds. “But it’s a hundred times more difficult to go through surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy to treat cancer because you were too shy to talk about it and get it checked when it was in the early stages and could have been tackled more easily.”

What are the signs?

According to the NHS, bowel cancer is the third most common type of cancer in England, yet the symptoms can be subtle and don’t necessarily make you feel ill. But more than 90 percent of people with bowel cancer have one of the following combinations of symptoms:

  • A persistent change in bowel habit (going to the toilet more often, with looser stools and sometimes abdominal pain).
  • Blood in your stools without any other symptoms of piles (haemorrhoids) – in such cases it’s unlikely the cause is haemorrhoids.
  • Abdominal pain, discomfort or bloating always brought on by eating (this sometimes causes weight loss as it may make you eat less).
  • However, constipation, where you pass harder stools less often, is rarely caused by serious bowel conditions.

These symptoms are common and may not be anything to worry about. But if you’re affected by them for more than four weeks you’re advised to see your GP (though most people with these symptoms don’t have bowel cancer, the NHS claims).

Try the NHS bowel cancer symptom checker to find out if you have any of the symptoms, as well as which treatments you could try to see if your symptoms get better.

You can also talk to your local Careway pharmacist if you’re concerned about your health – most pharmacies these days have private areas where you can talk without being overheard. Just tell your pharmacist you’d like a confidential chat. Chances are it won’t be anything to worry about, plus your pharmacist may be able to recommend an appropriate over-the-counter product to help soothe your symptoms.

Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.

Red Trouser Day is held on October 19. The event aims to educate people about how to avoid bowel cancer, spot the symptoms and cope with cancer.