Symptoms of bowel cancer and reducing your risk

Director of Clinical Strategy, Bupa
07 April 2017
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It’s Bowel Cancer Awareness month this April and as it’s the fourth most common cancer in the UK, we should all know what the symptoms are. Here, myself and Charlotte Dawson, Senior Nurse Advisor at Beating Bowel Cancer, explain the symptoms, what to do about them and how you can reduce your risk.

The key symptoms you need to know about

Charlotte Dawson says: “Being aware of the symptoms of bowel cancer is very important. If you notice one or more of the higher-risk symptoms for three weeks or more, you should get advice from your GP. These include:

  • bleeding from your bottom or blood in your poo
  • a change in bowel habit from what’s normal for you
  • an unexplained pain or lump in your abdomen
  • unexpected weight loss
  • tiredness, dizziness or breathlessness

An image showing the symptoms of bowel cancer An image showing the symptoms of bowel cancer An image showing the symptoms of bowel cancer An image showing the symptoms of bowel cancer An image showing the symptoms of bowel cancer

“If diagnosed at the earliest stage, more than nine in 10 people survive for five years or more. This compares with just one in 10 people diagnosed at late stage. Bowel cancer starts as small polyps (growths), and these are much easier to remove and treat. As a tumour grows, and if it spreads to other areas of the body, treatment becomes harder and more complex. So early diagnosis does save lives.

“Most people with these symptoms will not have bowel cancer, but your GP will certainly want to examine you and may refer you or do further tests to rule it out.”

Seeing your doctor

People in the UK can be quite slow at going to see their GP, and this can be for a number of reasons. Some may not be aware that their symptoms should be checked out, or they may feel embarrassed, particularly for conditions such as bowel cancer.

A significant proportion of patients are worried that they will be wasting the doctor’s time with what could be a trivial complaint. The pace of modern life also stops people from seeing their doctor. In a survey of 1,000 working Londoners, more than half said they regularly cancel or re-schedule health appointments because of work commitments.

Like Charlotte says, early diagnosis is the key to treating bowel cancer successfully. If you’re reading this blog and you’re worried about any symptoms at all, please don’t delay in making an appointment with your GP.

What can you do to prevent bowel cancer?

More than half of cases of bowel cancer are preventable – because they are linked to unhealthy lifestyles and other risk factors.

What lifestyle factors might you need to change?

What can you proactively do to protect your health?

An image showing the Beating Bowel Cancer logo

Beating Bowel Cancer is the support and campaigning charity for everyone affected by bowel cancer. 

For more information about Beating Bowel Cancer’s initiatives and services, please visit:

To contact the Beating Bowel Cancer nurse helpline, please call 020 8973 0011 or email

Here at Bupa we’ve made a promise to our health insurance customers that if they develop cancer whilst with us, we’ll aim to give the best treatment, support and information available.

Dr Lizzie Tuckey
Director of Clinical Strategy, Bupa

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