What We Should All Know About Bowel Cancer
Bowel Cancer and Me
The majority of bowel cancer patients are over 50 years of age when they are diagnosed with this condition, but every year in the UK 2,500 individuals under the age of 50 are diagnosed with this type of cancer as well. Several years ago, my mum was one of these 2,500 people, which came as a huge shock to our entire family.
Thankfully, my mum is now in remission - but this doesn’t erase the incredibly difficult year our family faced as a result of the diagnosis. My mum was in her 30s when she suffered from bowel cancer - she barely drinks, doesn’t smoke, and has a pretty healthy diet (usually!). As a result, this diagnosis came as a real shock to her, because she didn’t think someone her age could have this type of cancer, given that it’s typically associated with older generations.
When she was finally diagnosed, my mum was in Stage 3 of her cancer journey - as lots of you may know, once you tip into Stage 4, your cancer is usually terminal, so my mum was incredibly lucky that she received a diagnosis when she did. However, she delayed her doctor's appointments for so long because she was unaware of the signs and symptoms that come with bowel cancer - she assumed it was a stomach bug for a really long time.
Raising Awareness Over Rehashing the Past
I don’t want this article to primarily be about rehashing my mum’s journey - she barely told anyone about her illness and powered through her life as normally as she possibly could. Continuing with her job, the school run, and being a wonderful mother and wife, she battled through her illness with true determination at an age that is rarely associated with cancer treatment. She has always been, and will forever be, my inspiration.
We all know that cancer is exhausting and cruel, but there seems to be a lot of focus on how to deal with cancer whilst you have it, and not as much emphasis on prevention and early diagnosis, which can be the difference between life and death. There is an increase in awareness regarding breast and testicular cancer checks, which is fantastic - but there are many other forms of cancer, including bowel, which can be overlooked or forgotten about until it’s too late. After my mum’s close call, which led to over 10 hours in surgery, I am now passionate about raising awareness and understanding bowel cancer, and its symptoms to young people in particular.
Recognizing Bowel Cancer+
Bowel cancer can be triggered by two different things - lifestyle choices, or genetics. In my mum’s case, it was a genetic form of bowel cancer that sadly hit her when she was younger than other patients. As a result of her diagnosis, myself and my siblings will now receive lifelong screening for cancer because we are prone to the illness due to our genetics.
This type of cancer can sneak up on you with no warning when it’s genetic, so it’s important that people are aware of the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer especially if, like me, you know you’re genetically prone to the condition.
It’s also uncomfortable to talk about bowel cancer - who wants to talk about bowels, bowel movements, bottoms, and going to the toilet? It’s not exactly a top choice for conversation starters - but that’s why it’s even more critical to be aware of the bowel cancer signs.
The NHS details several different symptoms of bowel cancer, and as you’d expect, many of these symptoms are synonymous with stomach bugs and pains. The following three symptoms are pretty subtle, but 90% of people with bowel cancer suffered from one of these symptoms, so they’re critical indicators.
Persistent changes to your bowel habits
Perhaps you’re suddenly going to the toilet a lot more frequently - this will be different for everyone because all of our bodies work differently. Some of us will have bowel movements every day, or every other day, but others may only move their bowels once or twice a week.
This means there are no specific indicators regarding time or frequency with this symptom - you know your body better than anybody. If you find that your bowel movements are changing, or that your poo itself is changing (yes we all know we look in the toilet bowl at our own poo - it’s important in this situation that we do!) then this could be an indicator of something not quite right inside your bowel.
Blood in your poo
Lots of people associate blood in their poo with piles, which means that you can be misdiagnosed or complete an incorrect self-diagnosis using our wonderful friend, the internet.
The typical symptoms of piles include itchiness around your anus, or mucus after wiping your bottom. If you’re still seeing blood in your poo, without the itchiness or mucus, then this is something you will want to tell your doctor. (You should probably tell your doctor anyway because they’ll be able to advise on effective treatments regardless of the diagnosis).
Stomach pains after eating
If you’re consistently feeling discomfort, experiencing bloating or suffering from stomach pains after eating, then this could be an indicator of bowel cancer.
This can also lead to less food eaten, which leads to weight loss as well. Keep an eye on this, because it’s easy to dismiss this as a stomach bug, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
There will often be more symptoms to accompany these, but these three listed above are the most common and will be easy for you to identify yourself. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms for 3 weeks, it’s time to visit your doctor.
Usually, this will help you diagnose your cancer as quickly as possible in order to get the life-saving treatment that my mum was so fortunate to receive. However, if you’re struggling to get responses from your doctors, or they’re not considering bowel cancer as an option and you’re keen to rule it out, there are methods and resources available through private healthcare channels that provide home test options too. Private healthcare isn’t for everyone, but if you’re struggling with a sense of satisfaction and peace of mind regarding a bowel cancer diagnosis, and you’re looking for a speedy option, consider looking at additional services to the NHS if you feel it will reduce your anxiety and stress.
As you can see - there is a real wealth of resources available to you if you’re concerned about bowel cancer. If you’re like me, and bowel cancer runs in the family, it can be really daunting at a young age. Just last week I visited my doctor because I was experiencing the third symptom listed above, and have been for a really long time. I didn’t realize that 3 weeks was the indicator for a doctor's visit, and with all my awareness and experience with bowel cancer, I should have gone much earlier.
If we educate ourselves, we put ourselves first. Cancer hates when we educate ourselves about it, so let’s keep pushing for education, and awareness so cancer doesn’t stand a chance, resulting in more survival stories like my mum.
Photo courtesy of Unsplash.