Bowel cancer: what it is and where to get tested

Bowel cancer is a general term for cancer that begins in the large bowel which is made up of the colon and rectum. It is the fourth most common type of cancer diagnosed in the UK with 1 in 15 men and 1 in 18 women being diagnosed with bowel cancer during their lifetime. More than nine out of ten new cases (94%) are diagnosed in people over the age of 50 but bowel cancer can affect anyone of any age. Nearly everyone survives bowel cancer if diagnosed at the earliest stage. However this drops significantly as the disease develops.

Symptoms of bowel cancer include a persistent and unexplained change in bowel habit, bleeding from your bottom and/or blood in your poo, unexplained weight loss, extreme tiredness for no obvious reason, a pain or lump in your tummy. Most people with these symptoms don’t have bowel cancer. Other health problems can cause similar symptoms but if you have one or more of these, or if things just don’t feel right, go to see your GP.

We don’t know what causes most bowel cancers, but there are some lifestyle choices that can help lower your risk. These include not smoking and cutting down on alcohol, exercising regularly, being of a healthy body weight, eating plenty of fibre and avoiding processed meat can help stack the odds of a bowel cancer diagnosis.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland people over the age of 60, and in Scotland people over the age of 50, are invited to take part in bowel cancer screening every two years until the age of 74. If you are registered with a GP and within the eligible screening age range, a test will be automatically posted to you so you can complete it in the privacy of your own home. If you’re 74 or over, you can ask for this test by calling the freephone helpline on 0800 707 60 60.

The screening programme uses home tests that look for hidden blood in poo. Even if you have taken part in screening, you should still report any symptoms to your GP as soon as possible and all age groups need to be aware of symptoms, particularly if there is a family history of the condition as this may increase risk. For further information go to

If you’ve been experiencing symptoms that may indicate bowel cancer, why not speak to someone in the Global Colon Cancer Association’s community on HealthUnlocked. Get tips, advice and support from people who are going through the same health challenge as you.


Written by Vic Leeson of
Vic Leeson is a relational counsellor based in Leeds. You can contact her on

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