Bowel Cancer: the fourth most common cancer in England

I asked Dr Patel to write this article as I have personally, heard of a few cases of bowel cancer recently including the 34-year-old daughter of a friend of mine. Of course, there is also the tragic and brave story of Deborah James who is known as bowelbabe (Please do follow her) and has made us all so conscious of this killer disease. So I welcome Dr Patel’s insight and advice. Annabel


The Covid-19 pandemic has affected us all, by affecting our physical health, mental health and ability to access healthcare. Unfortunately, this has meant that patients are presenting with late symptoms of cancer, particularly bowel cancer. Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in England, and there are over 120 new cases diagnosed each day. 40% of people diagnosed with bowel cancer are over 75 years old, and it is a cancer that can affect us at any age but is more common over the age of 60 years old.

Bowel cancer can affect any part of the bowel, but the most common area that is affected is the rectum. General symptoms include a change in your bowel habit- meaning that it may change and be harder for you to pass stool or may be looser than you expect. Blood in your stool, abdominal pain, swelling or bloating. People may also experience weight loss when they are not trying to lose weight, a reduction in their appetite, nausea and tiredness. These symptoms can be associated with other conditions, so it is important to always talk your concerns and symptoms through with a medical professional if you are unsure.

Whilst we do not know what causes bowel cancer specifically, there are risks that can make it more likely to develop bowel cancer, such as eating processed meat, not having enough fibre in your diet, not enough physical activity in your lifestyle, and being overweight, drinking alcohol and smoking. When I have seen patients presenting with symptoms that make me concerned that they have bowel cancer, they are urgently referred to see a colorectal surgeon and for investigations such as blood tests, a colonoscopy (using a small flexible camera to look inside the bowel) or a CT scan.

There are also other ways to monitor and screen for bowel cancer that are available on the NHS, particularly the Bowel cancer screening programme for all adults in England from 50 years old to 74 years old. This particular service involves a home test kit, called a faecal immunochemical test (FIT), that is automatically sent out every two years, that involves sending back small amounts of stool that are then checked for non-visible signs of blood. Results are sent directly back to you, and if there are concerns you will be asked to attend a screening colonoscopy, as small growths in the bowel called polyps can also cause bleeding, but if left untreated can lead to bowel cancer. It is important to ensure that your NHS GP has the correct postal address for you, as these test kits are sent out automatically until you are 75 years old.

If you are concerned about bowel related issues, worried that you may have a change in your bowel habit or want to discuss any concerns you have further,  please discuss this with your general practitioner and make an appointment to see them today.

Dr. Hana Patel BSc MBBS FRCGP MSc (Med Ed) ILM7 NHS and Private Senior General Practitioner (FRCGP).

Dr. Hana Patel has passed the rigorous process and is also known as a ‘Topdoctor’- GP and Life Coach in the UK, and is a leading specialist in her field.