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Bowel Cancer: Don't die of embarrassment

Bowel Cancer

Published at 7:23am 9th April 2019. (Updated at 8:25am 9th April 2019)

Don't die of embarrassment.

It's one of the key messages during Bowel Cancer Awareness Month.

We're being urged to wise up to the early signs and to see a GP if you've any concerns or anxieties.

Angela Ingram is a colo-rectal cancer nurse specialist at Dorset County Hospital. She says there's no reason to feel ashamed or awkward; "We understand that it can be embarrassing for people. . However we do deal with bowel issues, bowel habits and poo an awful lot. It's not anything new for us."

At the same time she says they do all they can to make patients feel comfortable.

"We treat people with understanding when they come along and realise it can be embarrassing. Most people when they come along are relieved to have been checked and feel they've been understood and treated with compassion."

'Second biggest cancer killer'

Every 30 minutes someone dies from bowel cancer, making it the UK's second biggest cancer killer. However, this shouldn't be the case as it's a treatable and curable disease, especially if diagnosed early.

It's not known what causes most bowel cancers, but some factors increase your risk of developing the disease. Some of these factors, such as age and genetics, cannot be changed.

However, research shows that around half (54%) of all bowel cancers could be prevented by making simple changes to your diet and lifestyle.

This Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, Bowel Cancer UK is encouraging people living across the country to make small changes to help stack the odds against bowel cancer and in so doing to reduce their risk of many other health conditions too.

Symptoms of bowel cancer

Bowel cancer is very treatable but the earlier it is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat. People whose cancer is diagnosed at an early stage have a much higher chance of successful treatment than those whose cancer has become more widespread.

If you have any symptoms, don't be embarrassed and don't ignore them. Doctors are used to seeing lots of people with bowel problems.

The 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 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.

Reducing your risk of bowel cancer

1. Avoid processed meat and limit red meat: There is strong evidence that eating processed meat and a lot of red meat can increase your risk of bowel cancer. Therefore, a simple step to reduce your risk is to limit how much red meat you eat and avoid processed meats as much as possible.

2. Eat plenty of fibre from wholegrains, pulses, vegetables and fruit: Fibre is an important part of a healthy diet, keeping everything moving easily through your digestive system and helping to reduce your risk of bowel cancer. Foods like brown rice, nuts, seeds, potatoes with skins on, oats, chickpeas, and lentils are great sources of fibre.

3. Keep hydrated: We need to drink about 1.6 to 2 litres (6-8 glasses) of fluid every day to stop us getting dehydrated. Water and low fat milk are great choices. Drinks that are high in sugar, such as cola, lemonade, fruit squash with added sugar and fruit juices, should be avoided.

4. Maintain a healthy body weight: Being overweight or obese and carrying a lot of weight around your waist can increase your risk of bowel cancer. It is estimated that 11 out of 100 bowel cancers (11%) in the UK are linked to people not having a healthy body weight.

5. Be more physically active: People who are more physically active have a lower risk of developing bowel cancer. Being active can help you maintain a healthy body weight and makes you feel good. The UK physical activity guidelines state that adults over the age of 19 should aim to be active daily, with activity adding up to at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity in bouts of 10 minutes or more over a week.

6. Limit your alcohol intake: Alcohol is linked to seven types of cancer, including bowel cancer. It is estimated that about 6 out of 100 bowel cancers (6%) in the UK are linked to alcohol.

7. Stop smoking: An estimated 7% of bowel cancer cases in the UK are linked to tobacco smoking, and bowel cancer risk increases with the number of cigarettes smoked per day.

8. Take part in the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme: The NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme can detect bowel cancer at an early stage in people with no symptoms, when it is easier to treat and the chance of survival is greater. If you're registered with a GP and aged 60-74, you will receive a test in the post every two years. It is a simple test that can be carried out at home in private and it comes with step by step instructions. The test looks for hidden blood in your poo, which could be an early sign of bowel cancer.

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