Bowel cancer symptoms: Narrow poo is a visual warning sign – what to look for

Bowel cancer symptoms explained by Doctor Richard Roope

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Bowel cancer is a general term for cancer that begins in the large bowel. The large bowel is part of the digestive system. It includes the colon and rectum. Due to the location of the cancer, it often interferes with bowel habits.

These changes to your bowel habits often represent the first warning signs of bowel cancer.

Although, as the NHS points out, people often do not attach the dots because the changes can be subtle and do not necessarily make you feel ill.

According to health body Colorectal Cancer Alliance (CCA), if your poo is more narrow than usual, it could indicate bowel cancer.

Other changes include:

  • An intermittent or constant diarrhoea
  • Constipation
  • A change in the consistency of your poo.

How to respond

“Since the early signs of cancer often do not include pain, it is important not to wait and see your doctor soon,” says the CCA.

The health body adds: “Remember, early detection can save your life.”

What to expect from an appointment

According to the NHS, 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),” says the health body.

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As it explains, this is a useful way of checking whether there are any lumps in your tummy or bottom (rectum).

Am I 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.

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

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.

The government recommends that people eating more than 90 grams of red and processed meat a day should reduce it to 70 grams or less.

A linked risk factor is obesity, which is estimated to account for 11 out of 100 bowel cancers in the UK, reports Cancer Research UK.

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.

You can try to keep a healthy weight by being physically active and eating a healthy, balanced diet.

In fact, there is strong evidence which shows that people who are more physically active have a lower risk of bowel cancer.

Other risk factors include:

  • Smoking tobacco
  • Alcohol
  • Age
  • Family history.

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