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Bowel cancer: two “highly predictive” symptoms to look out for

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Kuldeep Singh
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Bowel cancer – is one of the most common types of cancer diagnosed in the World. With this growing global burden, prevention of cancer is one of the most significant public health challenges of the 21st century.

As its name suggests, it begins in the large bowel – a part of the digestive system that includes the colon and rectum. Due to its location, it often disturbs bowel habits, although the symptoms can be hard to recognize.

A study published in the journal Family Practice seeks to bring to our notice the most predictive indicators of bowel cancer.

The main aim of the research was to assist doctors and health professionals “select patients for rapid investigation”.

To assess the prevalence of symptoms, a structured literature review was carried out.

To do their research, scientists carried out a structured literature review.

The paper, titled “Diagnosis of colorectal cancer in primary care: the evidence base for guidelines” found two highly predictive symptoms – Rectal bleeding and change in bowel habit towards increased looseness or increased stool frequency.

“Other symptoms, such as abdominal pain, are so prevalent in the community that they have little predictive value,” the researchers wrote.

“Other health problems can cause similar symptoms,” explains the health body.

For example:

  • Blood in the poo when associated with pain or soreness is more often caused by piles (haemorrhoids)
  • A change in bowel habit or abdominal pain is usually caused by something you’ve eaten
  • A change in bowel habit to going less often, with harder poo, is not usually caused by any serious condition – it may be worth trying laxatives before seeing a GP.

“These symptoms should be taken more seriously as you get older and when they persist despite simple treatments,” adds the NHS.

Although people should see a Doctor If they have any of the symptoms of bowel cancer for three weeks or more, recommends the agency.

How to reduce your risk

The exact cause of bowel cancer is not known, but it can depend on may elements including age, genetics and lifestyle.

Many studies have also shown that eating lots of red and processed meat increases the risk of bowel cancer.

Processed meat includes bacon, salami, sausages, canned meat, or chicken nuggets or any other food that is treated to preserve or add flavour.

Be careful about these risk factors as well:

  • Being overweight and obese
  • Physical activity
  • Smoking tobacco
  • Alcohol
  • Age
  • Family history
  • Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
  • Previous cancer
  • Medical conditions
  • Benign polyps in the bowel
  • Radiation
  • Infections.

How is it treated?

Well, your treatment depends on many factors like type of cancer: colon or rectal and stage of the cancer.

“The main treatments are chemotherapy, surgery, radiotherapy and chemoradiotherapy,” adds the charity.

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