Bowel cancer: Dr Philippa Kaye lists the symptoms
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Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is considered the fourth most common cancer type in the UK, claiming more than 16,000 lives each year. This diagnosis struck Carla Mitchell as a surprise. Aged just 36 at the time, she suspected a whole host of other conditions when she first started experiencing symptoms back in 2021.
From blood in your poo to abdominal pain, the position of a bowel cancer tumour triggers various red flag signs in your tummy.
While you might expect the first symptoms to strike on the toilet, the warning signs can be more subtle and vague.
In Carla’s case, the symptom onset included rapid heartbeat, achy legs and breathlessness.
She told Bowel Cancer UK: “My main symptom was anaemia. I was experiencing a rapid heartbeat, extremely achy legs and became out of breath from going up a flight of stairs.
READ MORE: The colour in your poo that is ‘early sign’ of bowel cancer – seen in 89% of cases
“I then noticed that my bowel habits were starting to change and kept having a stomach ache that would wake me during the night.”
Once Carla’s anaemia was identified, her GP acted very quickly and started to dig deeper.
Despite her being too young to have “anything sinister such as cancer”, the GP wanted to rule it out.
She added: “Personally, I thought my symptoms were probably to do with the menopause.
“There were so many things I thought it could be rather than cancer – and my doctor initially thought the same.”
While Carla’s bowel cancer presented with menopause-like symptoms, the stomach is still very likely to take a hit.
According to the NHS, the three main symptoms of bowel cancer are:
- Persistent blood in your poo (happens for no obvious reason or is associated with a change in bowel habit)
- Persistent change in your bowel habit (having to poo more and your poo may also become more runny)
- Persistent lower abdominal (tummy) pain, bloating or discomfort (that’s always caused by eating and may be associated with loss of appetite or significant unintentional weight loss.
The health service urges you to see a GP if you have any of the symptoms of bowel cancer for three weeks or more.
After the colonoscopy confirmed the daunting condition, Carla had to undergo surgery and chemotherapy.
Once the chemotherapy had finished, she tested positive for Lynch syndrome, which describes a condition that increases the risk of many kinds of cancer.
Carla added: “Since my diagnosis, life has changed in many ways but, for me personally, it has been more so in terms of the mental effects rather than the physical.
“I’ve felt emotions that I didn’t know I was capable of feeling, and every day brings different thoughts, feelings and anxieties. I definitely have to learn to rest now when my body and mind need it!
“I am extremely grateful and lucky that I work for such a loving and supportive company, who have looked after me during my absence from work and long after my return to work.
“They supported me as much as possible financially so that I could focus on getting myself better.
“I also feel very lucky that my treatment wasn’t affected by the Covid pandemic, as it so easily could have been.”
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