Sings and Symptoms
The three main symptoms of bowel cancer are blood in the stools, a change in bowel habit, such as more frequent, looser stools, and abdominal pain.
However, these symptoms are very common. Blood in the stools is usually caused by haemorrhoids, and a change in bowel habit or abdominal pain is often the result of something you have eaten.
As the vast majority of people with bowel cancer are over the age of 60, these symptoms are more important as people get older. These symptoms are also more significant when they persist in spite of simple treatments.
Most patients with bowel cancer present with one of the following symptom combinations:
- a persistent change in bowel habit, causing them to go to the toilet more often and pass looser stools, usually together with blood on or in their stools
- a persistent change in bowel habit without blood in their stools, but with abdominal pain
- blood in the stools without other haemorrhoid symptoms, such as soreness, discomfort, pain, itching, or a lump hanging down outside the back passage
- abdominal pain, discomfort or bloating always provoked by eating, sometimes resulting in a reduction in the amount of food eaten and weight loss
The symptoms of bowel cancer can be subtle and don't necessarily make you feel ill.
When to seek medical advice
Try the bowel cancer symptom checker for advice on what treatments you can try to see if your symptoms get better, and when you should see your GP to discuss whether any tests are necessary.
Your doctor will probably perform a simple examination of your tummy and bottom to make sure you have no lumps, as well as a simple blood test to check for iron deficiency anaemia – this can indicate whether there is any bleeding from your bowel you haven't been aware of.
In some cases, your doctor may decide it is best to have a simple test in hospital to make sure there is no serious cause for your symptoms.
Make sure you return to your doctor if your symptoms persist or keep coming back after stopping treatment, regardless of their severity or your age.
Read more about diagnosing bowel cancer.
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:
- severe abdominal pain, which may initially come and go
- not being able to pass stools when you go to the toilet
- noticeable swelling or bloating of the tummy
A bowel obstruction is a medical emergency. If you suspect your bowel is obstructed, you should see your GP quickly. If this isn't possible, go to the accident and emergency department of your nearest hospital.
The content is offered for informational and educational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.