Bowel cancer: Dr Amir explains symptoms to look out for
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Cancer doesn’t always start with a bang. When the daunting condition triggers the first signs, they are often vague and subtle. When thinking of bowel cancer, your mind might jump straight to the toilet. However, this is not how Marsha Mckenzie, who was diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer in 2019, spotted her first symptom.
Bowel cancer is more common in people over the age of 50, but it can strike anyone of any age.
Marsha was diagnosed with the deadly condition aged 43 after battling an uncomfortable sign for a year.
She told Bowel Cancer UK: “I had underlying health issues but experienced abdominal pains for at least a year before my diagnosis.
“I went to my GP in January 2019 and was told it was constipation, but the pain got worse after August 2019.”
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From constipation to stomach pains, the tell-tale signs of bowel cancer crop up in your tummy or on the toilet due to the position of the cancerous tumour.
According to the health service, the “main” symptoms to look out for include:
- Persistent blood in your poo (that happens for no obvious reason)
- Persistent change in your bowel habit (having to poo more and your poo may also become runnier)
- Persistent lower abdominal pain, bloating or discomfort (always caused by eating)
- Loss of appetite
- Significant unintentional weight loss.
The NHS recommends seeing a GP if you have any of the symptoms of bowel cancer for three weeks or more.
Eventually, the woman had a colonoscopy in October which revealed fifteen polyps in her lower bowel alongside a cancerous tumour.
Marsha said: “To say I was shocked was an understatement. I was numb. Of course, your life changes forever in every sense.”
At the time of her diagnosis, she was in her final year of an Arts degree at Birkbeck College, planning to develop her screenwriting.
The 43-year-old woman had surgery, followed by six months of chemotherapy.
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From mouth ulcers to hair thinning, Marsha experienced all the “horrendous” side effects of chemotherapy.
However, she managed to complete the treatment as well as her degree in July 2020.
She graduated virtually later that year with a 2.1, which she’s “very proud of”.
After what felt like a disease-free period, further tests sadly revealed that the cancer has spread to her spine, kidneys, neck and heart.
Marsha has now stage four cancer, also known as metastatic cancer, which describes tumours spreading from their primary location to other parts of your body.
The symptoms and signs of metastatic cancer depend on where they travel.
Marsha added: “I am starting chemo again thankfully, but old feelings, fears and emotions have resurfaced and it’s an anxious time for me.
“Being optimistic and hopeful is all I can do so I’m praying the chemo does its thing.”
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