The 11 Red Flag Symptoms That Mean YOU Could Have Bowel Cancer

From bloating to constipation and blood in your stools, we reveal the symptoms of the fourth most common cancer and knowing them could save your life. Although it is widely spread, yet many of the key signs and symptoms are similar to those of far less serious illnesses.


It can be unpleasant, it involves the bowels – typically a part of the body we dismiss and certainly NOT something we talk about.

But, the reality is you must listen to your insides, for being in tune with your intestines could save your life.

Bloating, constipation and being sick are fairly routine health complaints.

And for many, losing weight is something to celebrate.

But, did you know all of these seemingly innocuous symptoms could in fact be a sign of something much more serious, life-threatening even?

Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is the fourth most common form of the disease in the UK, after breast, prostate and lung cancers.

More than 41,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with the disease each year

Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is the fourth most common form of the disease in the UK, after breast, prostate and lung cancers.

And today, a new study has warned around one in five bowel cancer patients told they have the disease in A&E, have suffered some of the “red flag” symptoms at least a year before their diagnosis.

Experts have warned doctors are therefore missing key opportunities to diagnose patients with bowel cancer – opportunities that could mean the difference between life and death.

Reacting to the new findings Cristina Renzi, a Cancer Research UK scientists at University College London said: “We know that patients diagnosed with cancer after emergency presentations don’t do as well as patients who are diagnosed by their doctor through non-emergency routes.

“This study shows that most patients – who are picked up through the emergency route – can be harder to diagnose as they often don’t show typical bowel cancer symptoms.

While there are some risk factors that we cannot change, such as age and genetics, there are other lifestyle factors that people can modify to reduce their risk of being diagnosed – quitting smoking for example

“However, in most cases they visit their doctor for various reasons multiple times during the months leading up to their diagnosis, which could represent opportunities to diagnose the cancer earlier.

“It’s important to find ways to ensure these patients can be diagnosed at an early stage.”

So, what are the signs and symptoms that we should look out for? And, who is most at risk of being diagnosed with bowel cancer?


As already stated, this form of cancer is the fourth most common in the UK, behind breast, prostate and lung cancers.

There are around 290,000 people living with the disease, and approximately 41,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.

More than nine in 10 new cases (94 per cent) are diagnosed in people over the age of 50, and nearly six in every 10 cases are diagnosed in people over the age of 70.

But, experts warn bowel cancer can affect anyone, regardless of their age.

More than 2,400 new cases are diagnosed in people under 50 each year.

One in 14 men and one in 19 women will develop bowel cancer in their lifetimes.

Abdominal pain is a key sign of bowel cancer, while bloating and constipation are signs of a bowel obstruction, which can be caused by a tumour.


The symptoms of bowel cancer include:

  • bleeding from the back passage, or blood in your poo
  • a change in your normal toilet habits – going more frequently for example
  • a lump in your back passage or abdomen – commonly felt on the right hand side
  • a feeling of needing to strain in your back passage – as if you need to pass a bowel motion – even after opening your bowels
  • losing weight
  • pain in your abdomen
  • a lower than normal level of red blood cells – also known as anaemia

Tumours in the bowel typically bleed, which can cause a shortage of red blood cells, known as anaemia. It can cause tiredness and sometimes breathlessness.

In some cases bowel cancer can block the bowel, this is known as a bowel obstruction.

The symptoms include:

  • gripping pains in the abdomen
  • feeling bloated
  • constipation and being unable to pass wind
  • being sick

While these are all signs to watch out for, experts warn the most serious of all is noticing blood in your stools.

The difficulty for doctors comes because all these symptoms can be signs of illnesses that are far less serious.

As a result, the disease can be harder to detect than other forms of cancer.


Scientists do not know the cause of most forms of bowel cancer, but they do know a series of factors that can increase a person’s risk of the disease.

Some of these things are just a fact of life – age and genetics for example.

But, others are lifestyle factors that can be changed and improved.

You’re at greater risk of bowel cancer if you have one or more of the following risk factors:

  • you’re aged over 50
  • you have a strong family history of the disease – eg. a parent, sibling or child diagnosed with bowel cancer before the age of 50, or two or more relatives diagnosed at any age or one or more relative with a known genetic condition linked to bowel cancer
  • a history of non-cancerous growths, known as polyps, in your bowel
  • long-term inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • type 2 diabetes
  • an unhealthy lifestyle – you smoke, are overweight or obese and do not get enough exercise


Bowel cancer is treatable and can be cured, particularly if it is diagnosed early enough.

More than nine out of 10 people with stage 1 bowel cancer – the least serious form – survive five years or longer after they are diagnosed.

However, this survival rate does drop significantly the longer a person has the disease before diagnosis.

The number of people dying from bowel cancer each year has been falling since the 1970s.

Around 126,200 people die from the disease in the UK each year – making it the most common cause of death from cancer in the country after lung cancer.



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