How well do you know your bowel?

Bowel Cancer Awareness month

Every 15 minutes somebody in the UK is diagnosed with bowel cancer, that’s nearly 43,000 people each year.

What do you know about the bowel?

The bowel is part of the digestive system. It is made up of the small bowel (small intestine) and the large bowel (colon and rectum). The small bowel is longer than the large bowel but it gets its name from the fact it is much narrower than the large bowel.

Cancer is more likely to develop in the large bowel. Small bowel cancer is much less common.

Cancer in the large bowel is called bowel cancer or colorectal cancer.

What are the symptoms of bowel cancer?

Bowel cancer is treatable, but the quicker it’s diagnosed, the easier it is to treat. Diagnosis at an early stage means a much better chance of a successful outcome.

If you have any symptoms, do not ignore them, and more importantly don’t be embarrassed. Doctors are used to seeing many people with bowel problems, and the sooner you are checked out the better.

Symptoms of bowel cancer can include:

  • Bleeding from your bottom and/or blood in your poo
  • A persistent and unexplained change in bowel habit
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason
  • A pain or lump in your tummy

Most people with these symptoms don’t have cancer, other health problems can cause similar symptoms. It’s important to get checked out by your GP if you have one or more of these or if something doesn’t feel right.


There are several causes of bleeding from your bottom or blood in your bowel movements (poo). For example bright red blood may come from swollen blood vessels (haemorrhoids or piles), bloody diarrhoea can be due to irritable bowel disease or a tummy bug and dark red or black blood may be due to iron tablets or eating certain foods to name just a few causes. Tell your doctor about any bleeding so they can find out what is causing it.

Changes in bowel habits

Tell your GP if you have noticed any persistent and unexplained changes in your bowel habit, especially if you also have bleeding from your back passage. You may have looser poo and you may need to poo more often than normal or you may feel as though you're not going to the toilet often enough or you might feel as though you're not fully emptying your bowels.

Weight loss

This is less common than some of the other symptoms. Speak to your GP if you have lost weight and you don't know why. You may not feel like eating if you feel sick, bloated or if you just don't feel hungry.


Bowel cancer may lead to a lack of iron in the body, which can cause anaemia (lack of red blood cells). If you have anaemia, you can feel very tired and your skin may look pale.

Pain or lump in your stomach

You may have pain or a lump in your stomach area (abdomen) or back passage. See your GP if these symptoms don’t go away or if they’re affecting how you sleep or eat.

What else could it be?

Your symptoms could be caused by some other common conditions that can be treated or monitored by your GP, such as:

How common is bowel cancer?

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK and the second biggest cancer killer. Around 268,000 people living in the UK today have been diagnosed with bowel cancer.

How many people survive bowel cancer?

Bowel cancer is treatable and curable especially if diagnosed early. Nearly everyone survives bowel cancer if diagnosed at the earliest stage. However, this drops significantly as the disease develops. Early diagnosis really does save lives.

What are the treatments for bowel cancer?

Treatment for bowel cancer will depend on which part of your bowel is affected and how far the cancer has spread.

Surgery is usually the main treatment for bowel cancer, and may be combined with chemotherapy, radiotherapy or biological treatments, depending on your particular case. Each person is different.

If it's detected early enough, treatment can cure bowel cancer and stop it coming back.

For further information

Colonoscopy procedure at Benenden Hospital

A colonoscopy can check what’s causing your bowel symptoms by looking at the lining of your rectum and colon using a long, flexible tube called a colonoscope.

To contact us about a private colonoscopy procedure, complete our online enquiry form or call our Private Patients team on 01580 363158.

Published on 11 May 2022