Unexpected weight loss, stomach pains and needing to go to the toilet more often are considered ‘red flag’ symptoms of bowel cancer – but experts are urging Brits to look out for another warning sign.
Nearly 43,000 people are diagnosed with the disease every year in the UK, making it the fourth most common cancer diagnosis.
It also claims around 16,800 lives every year in the UK, highlighting the need for people to pay attention to any unusual changes in their body – especially in their poo.
According to the NHS, bowel cancer describes a daunting condition that begins in the large bowel.
Similar to other forms of cancer, early detection can significantly improve your chances of effective treatment, making symptom awareness a priority.
Fortunately, one expert has revealed the ‘early’ warning sign that appears when you go for a number two.
Mr Anthony Antoniou from The Princess Grace Hospital and London Digestive Centre said: “Although bowel cancer can present in several different ways – including feeling bloated, a change in bowel habits and abdominal pain – one of the most common symptoms is blood in the stool, also known as haematochezia.”
Haematochezia describes the passage of fresh blood through your rectum and can be often mixed in with your poo.
“Blood in the stool can be an early sign that you can spot with the hope of identifying the problem early at a more treatable stage,” the expert said.
What’s more, rectal bleeding was one of the most frequent signs targeting 89 percent of bowel cancer patients in research, published in the journal Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England.
The research team recruited 183 participants to investigate the key symptoms of colorectal cancer.
Participants were divided into two groups based on how advanced their cancer was.
The main symptom of the 55 subjects at the early stages was haematochezia followed by other changes in bowel habits.
Mr Antoniou said: “If blood is being lost from the bowel, the colour of the stool will change. This colour change will depend on where in the bowel the blood is being lost.
“If the loss is in the upper bowel, then the stool will be dark or even black. Blood loss from the lower bowel will present as lighter colour bleeding.
“You may even notice blood on your toilet paper after wiping. The blood may be mixed in with the stool or separate depending on where in the bowel the blood has been lost from.”
The expert urged seeing a GP “right away” when you spot blood in your poo. However, this isn’t the only symptom that can break the news of bowel cancer.
From changes in your poo to bloating, there are plenty of other warning signs that are also important to spot.
Mr Antoniou said: “Some people may experience other symptoms and signs which could indicate bowel cancer.
“These include an unexplained change in bowel habits, such as constipation or looser stool or even change in the size or shape of stools.
“Other symptoms include abdominal pain, discomfort and bloating.
“Bowel cancer can also cause symptoms outside of the bowel, which you might not immediately relate to bowel cancer, including extreme tiredness, loss of weight and appetite.”
The NHS explains that these symptoms don’t necessarily mean you have the deadly condition as health problems, ranging from coeliac disease to haemorrhoids, can also trigger these red flags.
While other – “often benign” – conditions can cause symptoms like these, it’s important to get them checked, according to the expert.
“If you experience blood in your stool or a change in bowel habit, you should always consult your GP for them to carry out an assessment,” Mr Antoniou said.