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Bowel cancer health centre

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Bowel cancer symptoms

What are the symptoms of bowel cancer?

In its early stage,  bowel cancer - also known as  colorectal cancer - usually produces no symptoms. The most likely warning signs include:

  • Changes in bowel movements from normal that persist for more than 3 weeks, for example constipation or diarrhoea, or passing stools more frequently; a feeling of not being able to empty the bowel completely
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Blood in or on your stools
  • Abdominal pain
  • Unexplained fatigue
  • Unexplained loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss

Bleeding inside the bowel from bowel cancer can cause a loss of red blood cells or anaemia. This can lead to fatigue or breathlessness.

Some cases of bowel cancer can obstruct bowel which may cause a bloated feeling, abdominal pain, constipation or vomiting.

When to seek medical advice about bowel cancer

Don't be embarrassed to talk to your GP about any of these symptoms. Do seek medical advice if:

  • You notice any of the symptoms highlighted above. For example, a change in your bowel movements from normal, bleeding from the rectum, or blood in or on your stool. Don't assume you have haemorrhoids (piles).
  • You experience persistent abdominal pain, unusual  weight loss, or fatigue. These symptoms may be due to other causes, but they could also be linked to cancer.
  • You are diagnosed with anaemia. In determining its cause, your doctor should check for bleeding from the digestive tract due to bowel cancer.

To help make a diagnosis your doctor will perform a rectal examination and possibly arrange for you to have tests such as faecal occult bloods (FOBs), a sigmoidoscopy (used to look inside the lower part of the bowel) or a  colonoscopy -- an examination of the entire bowel.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on February 05, 2013

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