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Bowel cancer symptoms: A ‘common early warning sign’ when you go to the toilet

Bowel cancer symptoms can be subtle and don’t necessarily make a person feel unwell. Some of the main signs to look out for are in a person’s stools. A persistent change in bowel habit, such as pooing more often, with looser, runnier poos can signal the disease. But another sign to watch out for when you go to the toilet is tenesmus.


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Cancer Treatment Centers of America lists tenesmus as one of the common early warning signs of bowel cancer.

Tenesmus is a term used to describe the feeling that you have to empty your bowel but then nothing passes.

But it’s important to note tenesmus isn’t always linked to bowel cancer. advises: “It can be a temporary and transient problem related to constipation.

“The term rectal tenesmus is sometimes used to differentiate from vesicle tenesmus, which is an overwhelming desire to empty the bladder.”

Other possible causes of tenesmus include:

  • Crohn’s disease
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Anorectal abscess
  • Infective colitis
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Thrombosed haemorrhoids
  • Endometriosis
  • Rectal chlamydia trachomatis infection adds: “It is essential to make a thorough assessment to identify the cause of tenesmus.

“It is particularly important to consider serious underlying causes (eg, malignancy, inflammatory bowel disease) when there may be associated symptoms such as weight loss and rectal bleeding.”

Other symptoms of bowel cancer

The NHS lists three main symptoms of bowel cancer:

  • Persistent blood in your poo – that happens for no obvious reason or is associated with a change in bowel habit
  • A persistent change in your bowel habit – which is usually having to poo more and your poo may also become more runny
  • Persistent lower abdominal (tummy) pain, bloating or discomfort – that’s always caused by eating and may be associated with loss of appetite or significant unintentional weight loss


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But blood in the poo when associated with pan or soreness I more often caused by piles – also known as haemorrhoids.

A change in bowel habit or abdominal pain is usually caused by something you’ve eaten.

A change in bowel habit to going less often, with harder poo, is not usually caused by any serious condition.The NHS says it may be worth trying laxatives before seeing your GP.

Regardless, if you experience any of the symptoms of bowel cancer you should contact your GP.

During coronavirus lockdown you should still contact your GP if you have a symptom that might be caused by cancer.

Cancer Research UK advises: “You should still contact your doctor if you notice a change that isn’t normal for you or if you have any possible signs and symptoms of cancer.

Even if you’re worried about what the symptom might be, or about getting coronavirus don’t delay contacting them. Your worry is unlikely to go away if you don’t make an appointment.

“The symptom might not be due to cancer. But if it is, the earlier it’s picked up the higher the chance of successful treatment. You won’t be wasting your doctor’s time.”

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