Bowel cancer : Symptoms

The symptoms of bowel cancer can be subtle and do not necessarily make you feel ill. However, it's worth trying simple treatments for a short time to see if they get better.

More than 90% of people with bowel cancer have 1 of the following combinations of symptoms:

  • a persistent change in bowel habit – pooing more often, with looser, runnier poos and sometimes tummy (abdominal) pain
  • blood in the poo without other symptoms of piles (haemorrhoids) – this makes it unlikely the cause is haemorrhoids
  • abdominal pain, discomfort or bloating always brought on by eating – sometimes resulting in a reduction in the amount of food eaten and weight loss

Constipation, where you pass harder stools less often, is rarely caused by serious bowel conditions.

Most people with these symptoms do not have bowel cancer.


When to get medical advice

See your GP if you have 1 or more of the symptoms of bowel cancer, and they persist for more than 4 weeks.

Read more about diagnosing bowel cancer.

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Bowel obstruction

In some cases, bowel cancer can stop digestive waste passing through the bowel. This is known as a bowel obstruction.

Symptoms of a bowel obstruction can include:

  • intermittent, and occasionally severe, abdominal pain – this is always bought on by eating
  • unintentional weight loss – with persistent abdominal pain
  • constant swelling of the tummy – with abdominal pain
  • being sick – with constant abdominal swelling

A bowel obstruction is a medical emergency. If you suspect your bowel is obstructed go to the accident and emergency (A&E) department of your nearest hospital.

Further information

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