Bowel cancer symptoms: How thick is your poo? The ‘classic’ warning sign

Bowel cancer symptoms: How thick is your poo? The ‘classic’ warning sign

Deborah James discusses 'scary' bowel cancer symptoms

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Bowel cancer is a general term for cancer that begins in the large bowel. Depending on where the cancer starts, bowel cancer is sometimes called colon or rectal cancer. The symptoms of bowel cancer can be subtle and do not necessarily make you feel ill.

The signs and symptoms of bowel cancer depend on the location of the cancer in the bowel, and whether it has spread elsewhere in the body.

Due to the initial location of the cancer – on the inner lining of the bowel – many of the first symptoms show up when going to the toilet.

According to the Manchester Surgical Clinic, decrease in stool caliber (thickness), is a “classic” warning sign of bowel cancer.

Other classic warning signs include:

  • Worsening constipation or diarrhoea
  • Blood in the stool
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of weight
  • Nausea or vomiting.

How to respond

The NHS says: “See a GP if you have any of the symptoms of bowel cancer for three weeks or more.”

According to the health body, when you first see a GP, they’ll ask about your symptoms and whether you have a family history of bowel cancer.

“They’ll usually carry out a simple examination of your bottom, known as a digital rectal examination (DRE), and examine your tummy (abdomen).”

This is a useful way of checking whether there are any lumps in your tummy or bottom (rectum).

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Are you at risk?

The exact cause of bowel cancer is unknown. However, research has shown several factors may make you more likely to develop it.

Having one or more risk factors doesn’t mean that you will definitely get bowel cancer.

The role of some parts of our diet remains unknown or uncertain. But researchers have established that some foods can definitely affect the risk of bowel cancer.

Many studies have shown that eating lots of red and processed meat increases the risk of bowel cancer.

It is estimated that around 13 out of 100 bowel cancer cases (around 13 percent) in the UK are linked to eating these meats.

Processed meat is any meat that has been treated to preserve it and/or add flavour – for example, bacon, salami, sausages, canned meat or chicken nuggets. And a portion is about two sausages or three slices of ham.

The Government recommends that people eating more than 90g of red and processed meat a day should reduce it to 70g or less. 70g is the cooked weight. This is about the same as two sausages.

According to Cancer Research UK, obesity is a cause of bowel cancer.

It is estimated that 11 out of 100 bowel cancers (11 percent) in the UK are linked to being overweight or obese.

Obesity means being very overweight with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher.

BMI is a measure of whether you’re a healthy weight for your height.

“The risk of bowel cancer is higher in people who are obese compared to those who have a healthy BMI,” explains Cancer Research UK.

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