Bowel cancer kills more people than breast, prostate and cervical cancer put together, but gets less attention, probably due to the embarrassing nature of where the problem is – the bowels and the bum!
The legendary BBC foreign correspondent Jeremy Bowen was speaking this morning on BBC Breakfast about his experience of bowel cancer and gorgeous George Alagiah, the BBC anchor, returned to work in January of this year after a year off due to his Stage IV bowel cancer diagnosis.
Wishing both these men, whom I’ve been watching on the BBC for decades, a speedy recovery.
Being a colon hydrotherapist, I know how embarrassing people feel talking about anything to do with poo, bowels and the bum! Embarrassment doesn’t kill, cancer does!
We need to have conversations about how our bowels work, and we need to know what’s normal and what’s not, and pick up on any changes, including blood in poo, change in bowel movement ie suddenly becoming constipated, unexplained weight loss, unexplained tiredness and feeling a lump in your tummy area.
Blood in your stool – it can be quite alarming, having a bowel movement, looking into the toilet bowl and noticing bright red blood in your stool, or perhaps you noticed it on the toilet paper. Either way, it’s something that needs investigating by your GP.
It may be that you are constipated, your stools are dry and hard, and they may have scratched the bowel wall, causing a small bleed or you may have piles. Inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis can cause bowel bleeds. However, if you’ve noticed blood in your stool on at least three separate occasions, then you must go see your GP and get it checked out, especially if you are over 50 or you have a history of colo-rectal cancer in the family.
Red blood is usually a sign of bleeding in the large bowel, but the stomach and small bowel can also bleed. You won’t see red blood though, but you might see very dark blood, or what looks like coffee grounds in the toilet.
Anyone over the age of 60 in the UK (50 in Scotland) gets a free test for bowel cancer. Quite soon after your 60th birthday, and every two years after that until you are 70, you will receive a kit through the post. This is called a faecal occult test kit. Instructions are simple, just follow them, and send off three samples of your stool to the laboratory stated in the instructions. If everything is clear, you won’t hear anything, but if they pick up blood or the test was inconclusive, they may ask you to repeat it or go to see your GP for a chat. Ultimately your GP may refer you to the local Endoscopy Clinic for a colonoscopy, where a camera is inserted into your rectum and the whole length of your large bowel can be examined in very good detail, picking up any polyps, that the endoscopist will remove and send off for testing.
If blood is in your stool, and you’ve also lost weight recently, for no reason, or you’ve suddenly started suffering with fatigue, go to your GP immediately.
Bowel cancer, when detected early, is highly treatable, and the outcome usually good. Don’t bury your head in the sand.
If you have suddenly experienced any of these symptoms, please do go and see your GP. It may be nothing at all, but best to get checked out, as the earlier bowel cancer is detected, the better the prognosis.