What are bowel cancer’s symptoms and signs, how do you get treatment for the condition and is there a test?

BOWEL cancer is the fourth most common form of the disease in the UK – after breast, prostate and lung cancers.

It's also UK's second deadliest cancer – claiming 16,000 lives a year.

And Dame Julie Walters, 69, stunned fans earlier today by revealing she was diagnosed with the disease 18 months ago.

She follows in the footsteps of Sun columnist Deborah James, BBC news reader George Alagiah and Lord Andrew Lansley who have also opened up about their battles with bowel cancer.

The Sun previously launched the No Time 2 Lose campaign to urge people to talk about their insides and their number twos, in a bid to beat bowel cancer.

What is bowel cancer?

Bowel cancer, also known as colon cancer or colorectal cancer, is the fourth most common form of the disease in the UK, after breast, prostate and lung cancers.

It's the UK's second deadliest cancer – after lung – claiming 16,000 lives a year, but it CAN be cured – if it's caught early enough.

Fewer than one in ten people survive bowel cancer if it's picked up at stage 4, but detected quickly, more than nine in ten patients will live five years or longer.

That's why The Sun called for bowel cancer screening in England to start at 50 NOT 60.

Last summer after pressure from The Sun and campaigners, the Government agreed to lower the screening age, but a date for roll out has yet to be confirmed.

Is there currently a test for bowel cancer?

At the moment, Brits are subject to a postcode lottery, with those living in Scotland screened from 50.

Meanwhile, south of the border in England, and in Wales and Northern Ireland, those tests aren't offered until 60 – resulting in thousands of needless deaths.

But screening is one aspect of catching this disease early. It is vital every Brit knows what the red-flag symptoms of bowel cancer actually are – and act on them if they are worried.

What are the red-flag signs of bowel cancer?

The five red-flag symptoms of bowel cancer include:

  • Bleeding from the back passage, or blood in your poo
  • A change in your normal toilet habits – going more frequently for example
  • Pain or a lump in your tummy
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Losing weight

Tumours in the bowel typically bleed, which can cause a shortage of red blood cells, known as anaemia. It can cause tiredness and sometimes breathlessness.

In some cases bowel cancer can block the bowel, this is known as a bowel obstruction.

Other signs of bowel cancer include:

  • Gripping pains in the abdomen
  • Feeling bloated
  • Constipation and being unable to pass wind
  • Being sick
  • Feeling like you need to strain – like doing a number two – but after you've been to the loo

While these are all signs to watch out for, experts warn the most serious is noticing blood in your stools.

But, they warn it can prove tricky for doctors to diagnose the disease, because in most cases these symptoms will be a sign of a less serious disease.

Dame Julie Walters' secret battle

Dame Julie Walters opened up about her secret bowel cancer battle – after she was diagnosed 18 months ago.

The 69-year-old actress said she has been secretly battling the disease and has now been given the all clear after two primary tumours were found in her large intestine.

Speaking to BBC's Victoria Derbyshire, the actress said she was diagnosed with stage three bowel cancer, with two primary tumours in her large intestine.

And she said she initially thought the doctor had made a mistake after first going in for an appointment after noticing heartburn and vomiting.

But the actress, known for her roles in movies including Mamma Mia and Billy Elliot, said she had always held out hope of a recovery.

Describing her own reaction, Julie added: "Shock, first of all shock. And then I thought 'Right' and then you hold onto the positive because he said, 'We can fix this'."

As part of her treatment, Dame Julie had about 30cm taken out of her colon and underwent chemo.

She has since said she had a scan and had been given the all clear.

George Alagiah and Andrew Lansley


In January 2018 BBC newsreader George Alagiah revealed he was once again battling bowel cancer after four years in remission.

The 62-year-old said: "I genuinely feel positive as I prepare for this new challenge."

George is facing stage 4 cancer which means the disease has spread to other organs.

Similarly, Lord Andrew Lansley said he was diagnosed with stage three bowel cancer last year.

He said that he was "lucky" that his cancer was spotted after back pain and "nagging" from his wife persuaded him to see his GP.

The former health secretary's tumours have not spread to his liver, giving him "every reason to hope to be among the more than half of cancer patients who can look forward to long-term survival", he said.

How common is bowel cancer?

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common form of the disease in the UK.

There are around 290,000 people living with the disease, and more than 41,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, according to Bowel Cancer UK.

More than nine in every ten new cases (94 per cent) are diagnosed in people over the age of 50, and nearly six in every ten cases are diagnosed in people over the age of 70.

But, experts warn bowel cancer can affect anyone, regardless of their age.

More than 2,400 new cases are diagnosed in people under 50 each year.

One in 14 men and one in 19 women will develop bowel cancer in their lifetimes.

What are the risk factors of bowel cancer?

Scientists do not know the cause of most forms of bowel cancer, but they do know a series of factors that can increase a person's risk of the disease.

Some of these things are just a fact of life – age and genetics for example.

But, others are lifestyle factors that can be changed and improved.

You're at greater risk of bowel cancer if you have one or more of the following risk factors:

  • you're aged over 50
  • you have a strong family history of the disease – eg. a parent, sibling or child diagnosed with bowel cancer before the age of 50, or two or more relatives diagnosed at any age or one or more relative with a known genetic condition linked to bowel cancer
  • a history of non-cancerous growths, known as polyps, in your bowel
  • long-term inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis
  • type 2 diabetes
  • an unhealthy lifestyle – you smoke, are overweight or obese and do not get enough exercise

Can bowel cancer be treated?

Bowel cancer is treatable and can be cured, particularly if it is diagnosed early enough.

Some also turn to alternative treatments – including one man who is following research that suggested human breast milk may help kill off cancerous cells.

More than nine out of 10 people with stage 1 bowel cancer – the least serious form – survive five years or longer after they are diagnosed.

However, this survival rate does drop significantly the longer a person has the disease before diagnosis.

The number of people dying from bowel cancer each year has been falling since the 1970s.

Around 15,903 people die from the disease in the UK each year – making it the most common cause of death from cancer in the country after lung cancer.

For more information visit Bowel Cancer UK.

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