Bowel cancer: The symptom that’s ‘worse at night’ – can signal a cure is ‘highly unlikely’

Bowel cancer: Dr Philippa Kaye lists the symptoms

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Bowel cancer is one of the most common types of cancer diagnosed in the UK. Like all forms of cancer, spotting the symptoms earlier rather than later determines the prognosis. That’s because cancerous cells become harder to treat once they spread to other areas of the body.

Bowel cancer that’s spread is known as advanced bowel cancer. This means the cancer has spread from the back passage (rectum) and large intestines (colon) to other parts of the body, such as the liver.

One telltale sign the cancer has spread to the lungs is a “cough that doesn’t go away (often worse at night)”, warns Cancer Research UK.

Other telltale signs include:

  • Breathlessness
  • Ongoing chest infections
  • Coughing up blood
  • A build-up of fluid between the chest wall and the lung (a pleural effusion).

Unfortunately, a complete cure is not always possible at this stage and there’s sometimes a risk that the cancer could come back at a later stage.

“A cure is highly unlikely in more advanced cases that cannot be removed completely by surgery,” warns the NHS.

That’s why acting on abnormal changes as soon as they emerge is critical.

According to the NHS, more than 90 percent of people with bowel cancer have one of the following combinations of symptoms:

  • A persistent change in bowel habit – pooing more often, with looser, runnier poos and sometimes tummy (abdominal) pain
  • Blood in the poo without other symptoms of piles (haemorrhoids) – this makes it unlikely the cause is haemorrhoids
  • Abdominal pain, discomfort or bloating always brought on by eating – sometimes resulting in a reduction in the amount of food eaten and weight loss.

The health body advises seeing a GP if you have any of the symptoms of bowel cancer for three weeks or more.

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“When you first see a GP, they’ll ask about your symptoms and whether you have a family history of bowel cancer.”

Are you at risk?

The exact cause of bowel cancer is unknown. However, research has shown several factors may make you more likely to develop it.

Your risk of developing bowel (colon and rectal) cancer depends on many things including age, genetics and lifestyle factors.

Many studies have shown that eating lots of red and processed meat increases the risk of bowel cancer.

It’s estimated that around 13 out of 100 bowel cancer cases in the UK are linked to eating these meats.

Processed meat is any meat that has been treated to preserve it and/or add flavour – for example, bacon, salami, sausages, canned meat or chicken nuggets.

Obesity is also a cause of bowel cancer. It is estimated that 11 out of 100 bowel cancers (11 percent) in the UK are linked to being overweight or obese.

Obesity means being very overweight with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. And being overweight is a BMI of between 25 and 30.

BMI is a measure of whether you’re a healthy weight for your height.

According to Cancer Research UK, the risk of bowel cancer is higher in people who are obese compared to those who have a healthy BMI.

This underscores the importance of keeping healthy weight by being physically active and eating a healthy, balanced diet.

Indeed, there is strong evidence which shows that people who are more physically active have a lower risk of bowel cancer.

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