Bowel cancer kills more than 85,000 people in the UK, US and Australia per year.
But, like with most forms of cancer, not everyone knows the tell-tale symptoms.
The lack of awareness can scupper survival rates, with early diagnosis being vital for beating the disease, experts say.
Following the death of MasterChef Australia judge Jock Zonfrillo, 46, this week, MailOnline highlights the warning signs of bowel cancer so you know when to speak to a professional.
Bowel cancer can cause you to have blood in your poo, a change in bowel habit, a lump inside your bowel which can cause an obstructions. Some people also suffer with weight loss a s a result of these symptoms
Police found Zonfrillo’s body at about 2am on Monday after they were called to a hotel on Lygon Street in Carlton, Melbourne, for a welfare check. He had been receiving treatment for bowel cancer from at least June 2021
Finding blood in your poo can be alarming.
Bright red blood — indicating that it’s fresh — can be caused by piles.
Drops of blood in your stool can also be caused by non-cancerous growths known as polyps, according to Bowel Cancer UK.
But dark or black blood can be a sign of cancer, according to Cancer research UK.
This is because bowel tumours, usually located higher up in the digestive tract, can trigger bleeding internally.
Anyone experiencing blood in their poo should consult their doctor to find out what is causing it.
Screening programmes also check for hidden blood in poo and also polyps as these can develop into cancer.
Change in bowel habit
Changes in your usual bowel habits, such as needing to go to the toilet more often or feeling as though you are not fully emptying your bowels, are also potential warning signs of bowel cancer.
‘One potential indicator of bowel cancer is any significant change in your pooing habits – which can vary from person to person’, says colorectal surgeon James Kinross, of King Edward VII Hospital in London.
He added: ‘For example, pooing more often than normal, or having looser, runnier stools.
‘This would be more likely related to an external factor such as stress, eating more fibre or a change in diet, but it’s worth getting yourself checked if the problem persists.’
This change in habit can be caused by the presence of a tumour causing partial obstruction in the bowel and constipation.
It can also cause diarrhoea if the tumour leaks fluid into your bowels.
The change could happen for no obvious reason and if it lasts for longer than three weeks, you should get it checked by your GP, Macmillan says.
Although an uncommon sign of bowel cancer, unexplained weight loss is still one to look out for and mention to your GP.
Weight loss can be due to a tumour making you feel sick or bloated, says Bowel Cancer UK.
A tumour can also block the bowel, which can cause pain in the stomach putting you off eating, explains the charity.
Dr Kinross said: ‘Abdominal pain can have a wide range of causes from muscle fatigue to period pains.
‘But it can also be a sign of bowel cancer.
‘Discomfort or bloating always brought on by eating — which can lead you to eat less, and in turn lose weight — is something that needs to be assessed by a medical professional.’
British chef Jamie Oliver, who is starring as a guest judge on MasterChef this year and recently wrapped filming with Zonfrillo, said he was in ‘total shock’ over the death of his friend
Bowel cancer can make you feel tired.
This can be down to the tumour bleeding internally, which can develop into anaemia — when there is a lack of red blood cells in the body.
You may feel very tired and have pale skin as a knock-on effect.
Anaemia can also cause dizziness and breathlessness, according to Macmillan.
Pain or lump
A lump or pain in your stomach area or back passage is a warning sign of a tumour in the bowel.
Your doctor may be able to feel the lump, which is more commonly found on your right side, says Cancer Research UK.
The tumour can make you feel like you need to strain, even after opening your bowels.
Dr Kinross said: ‘Though this is likely to be benign, it may indicate a malignant growth.’
You should visit your GP if these symptoms do not go away, especially if it is affecting how you are eating and sleeping, says Bowel Cancer UK.
Tumours often develop into masses that can be felt. Your doctor may be able to feel the lump, which is more commonly found on your right side, says Cancer Research UK
Pain, bloating and feeling sick can sometimes be caused by a bowel obstruction, such as a tumour.
Cancer Research UK warned that people who have this symptom should visit their GP straight away or go to A&E because it is usually a sign the cancer has advanced.
This obstruction can happen when a tumour puts pressure on the bowel, or grows into the nerve supply and damages it.
‘Early detection is one of the best ways to increase your chances of surviving from bowel cancer,’ says Dr Kinross.
He added: ‘And though talking about your poo – or bowel habits – may seem embarrassing, doctors are there to listen confidentially and without judgement.
‘Talking to them will allow them to run the necessary tests and treat you as quickly and efficiently as possible.’
COLON CANCER: WHAT ARE THE WARNING SIGNS?
Bowel, or colorectal, cancer affects the large bowel, which is made up of the colon and rectum.
Such tumors usually develop from pre-cancerous growths, called polyps.
- Bleeding from the bottom
- Blood in stools
- A change in bowel habits lasting at least three weeks
- Unexplained weight loss
- Extreme, unexplained tiredness
- Abdominal pain
Most cases have no clear cause, however, people are more at risk if they:
- Are over 50
- Have a family history of the condition
- Have a personal history of polyps in their bowel
- Suffer from inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease
- Lead an unhealthy lifestyle
Treatment usually involves surgery, and chemo- and radiotherapy.
More than nine out of ten people with stage 1 bowel cancer survive five years or more after their diagnosis.
Unfortunately, only around a third of all colorectal cancers are diagnosed at this early stage.
The majority of people come to the doctor when the disease has spread beyond the wall of the colon or rectum or to distant parts of the body, which decreasing the chance of being successfully cured of colon cancer.
According to Bowel Cancer UK figures, more than 41,200 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK.
It affects around 40 per 100,000 adults per year in the US, according to the National Cancer Institute.
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