Doctor shares red flag symptoms for silent killer cancer that is often mistaken for IBS

By Staff 12 Min Read

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer in the UK with almost 43,000 people diagnosed with it every year. Every day 46 people will die as a result of the disease

A doctor has warned of the ‘red flag’ symptoms of a silent killer cancer that’s often wrongly identified as IBS.

When Leicestershire MP Jane Hunt received a shocking diagnosis of cancer, she had minimal symptoms that were initially mistaken for irritable bowel syndrome. She ultimately found out the devastating news through a colonoscopy that confirmed her severe bowel cancer.

Fortunately, after undergoing surgery and chemotherapy treatments, Mrs Hunt is now back to work, proclaiming that she “feeling good” and has resumed her normal life. Mrs Hunt was told the cancer could have been growing for up to 10 years – and that is not uncommon in people diagnosed with the disease. For there are few symptoms and those there are are often mixed up with IBS – a common condition that affects the digestive system. and causes symptoms like stomach cramps, bloating and diarrhoea.

But bowel cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer in the UK with almost 43,000 people diagnosed with it in the UK every year in the UK. Every day 46 people will die as a result of the disease.

While most cases are diagnosed in people over the age of 50 it can affect anyone of any age. More than 2,600 new cases are diagnosed in people under the age of 50 every year, reports Gloucestershire Live.

Associate medical director and GP at Vitality Nikita Patel has highlighted some crucial signs you need to be wary of, as well as when it’s time to contact a GP. She cautioned: “Bowel cancer symptoms can sometimes be confused with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) as the symptoms can be quite hard to distinguish. It’s important to keep a track of changes in your bowels and consult your GP if you’re worried about anything.”

Dr Patel has responded to key queries regarding the disease’s symptoms, when medical aid should be sought, and approaches that can diminish your risk of contracting it. Here’s her advice:

What signs point towards bowel cancer?

Bowel cancer may become evident through various methods. Some of the less commonly known symptoms encompass the following:

  • Unexplained change in bowel habit – such as going to open your bowels more often or becoming more constipated
  • Blood in your stool
  • Lump in your tummy
  • Unexplained loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Anaemia

When one or multiple of the aforementioned symptoms occur, getting the issue checked out by your GP would be wise.

Can bowel cancer symptoms be mistaken for other conditions?

Yes, they can. Symptoms of bowel cancer can often resemble Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), resulting in difficulty distinguishing between the two conditions.

Paying attention to any shifts in your bowel movements is essential, and if there’s anything troubling you, have a chat with your GP. They might suggest keeping a symptom diary or order additional tests to pin down an accurate diagnosis.

Are there techniques to lower your likelihood of developing bowel cancer?

The probability of being diagnosed with bowel cancer is influenced by a variety of different factors. However, maintaining a rejuvenating lifestyle can mitigate your chances of falling prey to this disease.

This could incorporate the following actions:

  • Stop smoking
  • Cut back alcohol intake
  • Eat fibre rich foods – a study found fibre can lower your risk of developing colon cancer.
  • Avoid processed meats and limit eating red meat – there is strong evidence that processed meat and a lot of red meat increases your risk of bowel cancer.
  • Maintain a healthy weight – being overweight or obese can increase your risk of bowel cancer.

How do I discuss my problem with a GP?

Bear in mind that doctors have seen it all they aren’t shocked by these discussions and genuinely want to address your health anxieties and concerns.

  • Be prepared – Before speaking to your GP, make a diary of your symptoms including when they started and how long they last for. This will give your GP a really good idea of the extent of your issues.
  • Don’t wait – you should consult with a GP if you have noticed a change in your bowel habit. If you notice bleeding from your bottom at any point, speak to a GP as soon as possible.
  • Be specific – although you may feel a little awkward discussing this, being specific with your symptoms will help your GP make a more thorough assessment. They may ask about the colour and consistency of your stools for example.
  • Know your body – remember that you know your body best. If something isn’t normal for you and you are concerned, speak to your GP!

What tests are required to detect signs of bowel cancer?

After visiting your GP, you might be asked to perform a stool test. This can be carried out in the privacy of your own home and is painless. It involves taking a small sample of your stool which will then be sent to a lab for examination. The results usually come back within a few days.

Your GP may also recommend some blood tests to check for conditions such as anaemia. Further testing may be necessary if the risk of bowel cancer is high following your initial tests or based on your symptoms. This typically involves a colonoscopy which is performed at the hospital.

During this procedure, a camera is used to examine your bowel from the inside and the doctor may take some biopsies from your bowel for further testing for signs of cancer.

What treatment options are there?

Treatment options depend on several factors such as the size of the cancer, its location, whether it has spread and your overall health. Your healthcare team will discuss the options and what is best for you whether that’s surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or targeted medicines and immunotherapy.

What happens if I need surgery?

There are a variety of surgical procedures available for bowel cancer. In some cases, to eradicate the cancer, your doctor might recommend its removal through surgery. This could involve excising a section of the colon as well, in an effort to ensure the cancer is thoroughly eliminated.

Your medical professional may discuss the possibility of creating a stoma, which involves bringing one end of your bowel out onto the surface of your abdomen. This isn’t applicable to everyone, but if it’s brought up, there are two distinct types – an ileostomy refers to when the small bowel is surfaced, and a colostomy when it’s the large bowel.

Adjusting to life with a stoma can take some time. There are specialist stoma nurses who are trained in stoma care, along with charities and support groups that can offer advice and assistance on how to manage your stoma. As you become more adept at managing your stoma, it should increasingly have less impact on your daily routine.

While this might seem unexpected, theoretically, you should be able to consume and enjoy the same foods as before. Your body will be in a healing phase, so the key focus is maintaining a balanced and nutritious diet, and your doctor can provide more specific advice about what’s needed during the recovery period.

How can I stay well during treatment?

Self-care is crucial. Staying active, eating healthily, and taking care of your mental wellbeing means that you’ll be in the best possible shape for your treatment.

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