Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, after breast, lung and prostate cancers.

It affects both men and women and the risk increases with age.  When bowel cancer is diagnosed at the earliest stage, more than 9 in 10 people will survive the disease for more than 5 years.

The signs and symptoms of bowel cancer can include:

  • bleeding from the bottom without any obvious reason or blood in your poo (this can be red, or it can be black and can make your poo look dark, like tar)
  • change in your normal bowel habit such as looser poo, pooing more often and or constipation.
  • tummy pain (especially if severe) or a lump in your tummy.
  • unexplained weight loss

These symptoms are unlikely to be caused by cancer but it is better to play it safe, so it’s important to tell your GP if you notice them.

How can you reduce your risk?

Around half the cases of bowel cancer diagnosed in the UK each year could be  prevented by lifestyle changes.

To reduce the risk of bowel cancer

Keep a healthy weight

Be a non smoker. If you smoke, it is never too late to stop.  The earlier you quit, the better.

Do more of:

Healthy eating. Try to eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables each day and choose wholegrain bread, cereals rice and pasta

Exercise. Try to do at least 2.5 hours of physical activity a week.  Things like going for a brisk walk or gardening count towards you total, even just doing 10 minutes at a time.  The more active you are, the more you cut the risk of bowel cancer.

Do less of:

Eating red and processed meats.

Drinking alcohol.  Cut down on alcohol.  If you drink, try to stick within the government guidelines -no more than 1 standard drink a day (2-3 units) a day for women or 2 standard drinks a day (3-4 units) for men.  But the less you drink, the lower the risk.

Bowel cancer screening

Bowel cancer screening is used to check for early signs of bowel cancer by looking for hidden traces of blood in your poo.  There is a national bowel screening programme for older men and women.  They will receive a screening kit to use at home.  Samples are sent away for testing.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland people aged 60-74 are offered screening every 2 years.

To request a free kit:

Call freephone 0800 707 6060

When bowel cancer is caught early there is a better chance of surviving the disease. For more information about the bowel screening programme visit.