What Are the Symptoms of Bowel Cancer?

Do you know the key signs and symptoms of bowel cancer, and which tests you can take to screen for it?

According to the Cancer Council, 90 per cent of bowel cancers can be treated successfully if found early. So it’s important to know the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer, and get any concerns checked by your doctor.

Don’t sit on your symptoms

Bowel cancer isn't always obvious in its early stages. Some symptoms that could indicate something may be wrong with your bowels include:

  • Unusual weight loss for no obvious reason or due to a loss of appetite.
  • Tiredness or breathlessness for no apparent reason. This could be due to blood loss. from the bowels, leading to anaemia where you have too few red blood cells or not enough haemoglobin in your blood.
  • Changes in bowel habits such as constipation or diarrhoea that continue for several weeks.
  • Abdominal pain, bloating or cramping in your belly.
  • Blood in stools, though this generally happens in later stages of bowel cancer.

These symptoms don’t always mean you’ve got bowel cancer so it’s important not to panic if you notice any of them. The best thing to do is to see your doctor.  They will be able to discuss your symptoms and arrange tests to see if you have bowel cancer. 

GP talking to woman

How is bowel cancer diagnosed? 

If your doctor suspects you may have bowel cancer, they will refer you for tests to see if you have bowel cancer. Common tests to diagnose bowel cancer include: 
  • An x-ray of the large intestine. To help the large intestine show up in the x – ray, a liquid form of barium (a metal) is pumped into the colon through a tube inserted into your bottom (rectum).  
  • An examination of the rectum and lower part of the bowel. This is where a sigmoidoscope (a tubular probe with a light on the end) is inserted into the rectum and lower part of the bowel. The specialist may also take a biopsy (a small sample of cells) from your bowel during the procedure and examine them under a microscope.
  • A colonoscopy. This test involves a long, flexible tube being inserted into the rectum and the bowel. 

Your specialist and doctor will discuss the results of your test with you and if you are diagnosed with bowel cancer they will also discuss your treatment options with you. 

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