Common ailments

Bowel cancer

Q: I am a 36 year old male and I have recently noticed blood passing during my bowel movements and in my stools. At first I noticed very small amounts of blood on the toilet paper, however the blood is now clearly visible in my stools.  I’ve heard this can be a sign of bowel cancer. Should I be worried?

Although bleeding from the back passage and blood in stools are common symptoms of bowel cancer, it is unlikely that this is a consideration in your case as you are only 36 years old. The large majority (90 per cent) of bowel cancer diagnoses are made in people over the age of 50.

The bowel is part of our digestive system and bowel cancer is a general term for cancer that begins in the large bowel, which is made up of the colon and the rectum. The lining of the bowel is made up of cells that are constantly being renewed. Sometimes these cells grow too quickly, forming a clump of cells known as a bowel polyp. Polyps are not bowel cancers but they can change into a malignant cancer over a number of years.

Symptoms of bowel cancer include blood in your stools, an unexplained change in your bowel habits, such as prolonged diarrhoea or constipation, and unexplained weight loss.

People with a family history of bowel cancer are at increased risk of developing the disease. Assuming however that you don’t have a family history of bowel cancer, I would say it more likely that you are bleeding from your anal canal rather than from the bowel. Haemorrhoids (piles) are usually the reason for blood-stained stool, though it could be that you have an inflamed bowel. I would recommend making an appointment with your GP who may suggest that you have the lower part of your bowel investigated by a specialist.

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