Signs and Symptoms

The commonest symptoms are change of bowel habit, for example:

  • A recent persistent change which lasts for a few weeks without returning to normal.
    These changes may include having looser motions or diarrhoea. Unexplained constipation is another symptom to check for. Also, you may go to the loo more frequently than normal, or trying to go.
  • Looser, more diarrhoea-like motions that lasts a few weeks and does not return to normal.
  • Unexplained constipation is another symptom to check for. Also, you may go to the loo more frequently than normal, or trying to go.
  • Trying to go or going to the loo several more times a day than normal
  • Rectal bleeding. Piles are the main cause but they usually have other symptoms like straining, sore bottom, lumps and itching
  • Bleeding from the back passage persistently without any of these symptoms must be investigated

Other warning signs include:

  • Feeling more tired than usual for some time
  • Unexplained anaemia found by your GP
  • A lump or mass in your tummy felt by your GP
  • Persistent colicky, severe abdominal pain which has come on recently for the first time, particularly if you are in an older age group
  • Losing weight for no obvious reason
  • Some families have an increased risk of developing bowel cancer. If one or more of your close relatives have developed bowel cancer at an early age, you should seek advice from your GP.

Other common conditions with symptoms similar to bowel cancer

Piles or haemorrhoids – These are swollen areas in the wall of the rectum and around the anus. They may cause pain and itching as well as bleeding. Bright red bleeding in the bowl or on toilet paper is almost always piles. Your GP or pharmacist should be able to advise re self treatment/over the counter products/other options.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome – With IBS the bowel becomes over sensitised, and symptoms may include diarrhoea, pain and discomfort. The cause is generally not known, and sufferers may have to learn to cope with their symptoms. Advice may be given re diet etc.

Polyps – These are warty type growths that sometimes cause bleeding but are usually harmless. They are often hereditary, and can be removed painlessly without the need for an operation.

Fissures – These are small splits or tears in the lining of the gut sometimes caused by constipation. Treatment is usually with a special cream-your GP will advise.

Diverticulitis – This condition is more common as we get older, with some IBS type symptoms such as gripping stomach pain. Dietary changes may help.

Crohns disease – This is characterised by painful inflammation of the gut. The cause is unknown and it may be life long. The risk of bowel cancer may be higher as a result, so your GP will need to monitor you regularly

Ulcerative colitis – The bowel becomes red and inflamed, and there may be bleeding and mucus as well as pain. Again, monitoring by the GP is needed as the risk of bowel cancer is higher as a result.

For more info on these conditions go to or