Signs and Symptoms of Bowel Cancer

The 3 main symptoms of bowel cancer are blood in the stools (faeces), changes in bowel habit – such as more frequent diarrhea or constipation, thin and shoelace-like stools – and abdominal (tummy) pain.

However, these symptoms are very common and most people with them do not have bowel cancer. For example, blood in the stools is more often caused by haemorrhoids (piles), and a change in bowel habit or abdominal pain is usually the result of something you have eaten.

As almost 9 out of 10 people with bowel cancer are over the age of 60, these symptoms are more important as people get older. They are also more significant when they persist despite simple treatments.

Most people who are eventually diagnosed with bowel cancer have one of the following combinations of symptoms:

  • a persistent change in bowel habit that causes them to go to the toilet more often and pass looser stools (diarrhea), constipation, or narrowing of the stool, that lasts for more than a few days; usually together with blood on or in their stools
  • a persistent change in bowel habit without blood in their stools, but with abdominal pain
  • blood in the stools without other haemorrhoid symptoms, such as soreness, discomfort, pain, itching or a lump hanging down outside the back passage
  • abdominal pain, discomfort, bloating or gas always provoked by eating, sometimes resulting in a reduction in the amount of food eaten
  • A feeling of incomplete evacuation after a bowel movement
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Anemia (a low red blood cell count)

The symptoms of bowel cancer can be subtle and don’t necessarily make you feel ill.

It’s important to note that these symptoms can also be caused by other, less serious conditions. However, if you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Your doctor will probably carry out a simple examination of your tummy and bottom to make sure you have no lumps. They may also arrange for a simple blood test to check for iron deficiency anaemia. This can indicate whether there is any bleeding from your bowel that you haven’t been aware of.

In some cases, your doctor may decide it is best for you to have a simple test in hospital to make sure there is no serious cause for your symptoms. Make sure you return to your doctor if your symptoms persist or keep coming back after stopping treatment, regardless of their severity or your age.