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10 Warning Signs of Bowel (Colorectal) Cancer You Shouldn’t Ignore

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10 Warning Signs of Bowel (Colorectal) Cancer You Shouldn’t Ignore

Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms described here in this article, then you are best to talk to your doctor. It could be nothing, and you are probably absolutely fine, but for your peace of mind, it is worth getting it checked out. But before discussing Signs and Symptoms of Bowel Cancer, it’s also important to which attribute to developing this disease:

Risk Factors

Family History – There is evidence that bowel cancer is hereditary. According to NHS website, around 20% of people who develop bowel cancer have a close relative (mother, father, brother or sister) or a second-degree relative (grandparent, uncle or aunt) who have also had bowel cancer.

Diet – There is a vast amount of evidence that suggests a diet high in red and processed meat can increase the chances of developing bowel cancer. Therefore, it is wise to maintain a healthy diet, low in saturated fat and high in fiber in order to reduce your bowel cancer risk. You can also read my previous article about the top 5 cancer causing foods to avoid.


Smoking – Those who smoke cigarettes have an increased chance of developing bowel cancer, and other types of cancer and heart disease.

Alcohol – A major study that took place, called the EPIC study, showed alcohol was linked with bowel cancer risk. Rather worryingly, the study showed that even small amounts of alcohol can put you at an increased risk of developing bowel cancer. The EPIC study showed that for every two units of alcohol a person drinks per day, their risk of bowel cancer increases by 8%.

Obesity – Morbidly obese men and women have an increased risk of developing bowel cancer, compared to those with a healthy weight. You can start to better manage your weight by implementing these 12 simple tweaks for weight loss.

Inactivity – People who don’t exercise are more likely to develop bowel cancer than those who exercise.

Digestive Disorders – People with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are more likely to develop bowel cancer.

Genetic Conditions – There are certain inherited conditions that can cause bowel cancer, such asfamilial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), also known as Lynch syndrome, and more.


Racial and Ethnic Background – African Americans are more likely to develop bowel cancer than any other racial group in the United Sates. Jews of Eastern European descent (Ashkenazi Jews) also have a high chance of developing the disease.

Type 2 Diabetes – People with type 2 diabetes have an increases risk of developing bowel cancer. Type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer have some of the same risk factors (such as excess weight). If you suffer from type 2 diabetes, read my article about the best foods to control diabetes.

Night Shift Work – The results of one study showed that people who do night shift work for at least three nights a month for at least 15 years, are more likely to develop bowel cancer. However, more research needs to be carried out in order to confirm this.

Previous Treatment for Cancer – Some studies have suggested that men who survive testicular and prostate cancer, have an increased risk of developing bowel cancer. It is thought that this is due to side-effects of the cancer treatment they receive.

Signs and Symptoms of Bowel Cancer

Some of the symptoms mentioned below have been commonly experienced by many people (such as constipation or diarrhea), but they become worrying when they are persistent or accompanied by more specific signs or bowel cancer such as bloody stools or rectal bleeding.


1. Blood in Stools

If you find blood on, or mixed in with your stools, then this could be sign that you have bowel cancer. The blood may be dark, or bright red, and mixed with mucus. Once you see your doctor, they will send off a stool sample for a laboratory analysis called a fecal occult blood test.

2. Changes in Stools

If you notice that your stools are very dark in color, or even black and sticky, then this could be caused by bleeding due to bowel cancer. You may experience normal bowel movements in between these stools. You may also notice your stools becoming very narrow or ribbon-like, and the stool may only be as wide in diameter as a pen.

3. Rectal Bleeding

 According to an article published in the July 2009 issue of “BMC Medicine: “Bleeding from the rectum occurs in more than half of people with colon cancer.” The blood is usually bright red and it may be found in the toilet bowl water or on the toilet paper. The blood may come after a painful bowel movement.

4. Trouble Passing Stool


Changes in passing of stools is a symptom of bowel cancer. You may experience a feeling of not completely passing a stool or you may feel the urgent need to have a bowel movement, and then you realize that there is no stool to be passed.

5. Anemia

The blood that is lost from bowel cancer can cause anemia, which is a shortage of red blood cells in the blood. The symptoms of anemia are feeling tired a lot of the time, weak, and short of breath. Your skin may also look pale. Anemia can be detected by MCHC blood test that checks for the concentration of hemoglobin in your blood cells.

6. Abdominal Pain

A certain amount of abdominal discomfort is normal experience at times. However, if you suffer from gas, cramping and bloating a lot of the time, then you could be more likely to develop bowel cancer. It is best to see your doctor about your concerns.

7. Weight Loss

Bowel cancer can result in weight loss even if you are eating normally. Alternatively, you may experience complete loss of appetite. According to the July 2009, “BMC Medicine” article, more than a third of people with bowel cancer experience unexplained weight loss.

8. Constipation

Constipation that persists more than a few days also may occur in association with colon cancer. Chronic or ongoing constipation may even increase your risk of developing colon cancer.

9. Diarrhea

Persistent diarrhea is a symptom of bowel cancer. According to the “BMC Medicine” article, more than 1 in 5 people with colon cancer will experience diarrhea.

10. Nausea and Vomiting

If you are experiencing persistent nausea and vomiting for no apparent reason, then this may be a symptom of colon cancer. It is possible to experience these with or without other abdominal symptoms.

So if you suspect that something is wrong, go to see your doctor, as early detection is a key to the best possible outcome.

Read my other related articles:

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35 Responses to 10 Warning Signs of Bowel (Colorectal) Cancer You Shouldn’t Ignore

  1. val says:

    i think my grandmom died with the same disease….these were the symptoms 🙁

  2. V.J. says:

    Recently I’ve been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and the doctor has given me lots of steroids. I’m fine now. But the steroids have caused lots of weight gain and body ache and stiffening.What do you suggest I do? Could this excessive use of steroids lead to long term effect?

    • Jenny says:

      Hi VJ, I’m not a doctor or a medical practitioner, but according to NHS website the risk of side effects increases with higher dosages or longer courses of steroids. I’ve seen that the weight will come off eventually after you discontinue steroids, but it may take time. Meanwhile you need to maintain healthy nutrition and exercise regularly to try to prevent excessive weight gain. I’m not sure about the body ache and stiffness, but I think you should discuss it with your doctor and see if there is an option to reduce the steroid dosage or use alternative treatment option.

  3. SC says:

    I have been haveing blood in the toleit for a while. So I ask my dr and she said it was hemorrhoids. But I been having blood clots on the toleit paper and it was dark red. And my stumic hurts and tired alot. And I will like I got to go poop. But then I just go a little are none. When I do go it hurts sometimes other it like stringing. I don’t know what to do. I have had that test where they went up my but that was like 15 yrs ago. But they found nothing. So now I don’t know who to talk to.

    • Jenny says:

      Have your doctor checked you for the hemorrhoids? in these cases doctors should conduct a physical check-up to see the hemorrhoids and asses how big they are and if there is a need for medication or further medical treatment. Don’t hesitate to go back to your doctor (or another doctor for a second opinion) and discuss your concerns. Get your hemorrhoids checked and discuss with your doctor if you need to do a colonoscopy or any other test that can find the cause of your problem.

  4. Richard says:

    I’ve read some research that said 500mg of Niacin a day prevents polyps. When I try to take the niacin I itch so badly that I’m not able to take it. Do you have any idea on how I can take the niacin without the side effects. The non flush niacin did not have the same health benefits.

    • Jenny says:

      Hi Richard, I personally don’t know the answer, but I saw that niacin can cause quite a lot of side effects. I would consult with a doctor to get a professional advice.

    • Sandy says:

      Take an aspirin 325mg, 30 minutes before the niacin. This prevents the itching in someone I take care of. Worth a try.

  5. gie says:

    good sharing those idea,now i experienced some of the symptom,my stool have blood,i feel like urgent to go toilet and then i realize there is no stool to be passed

  6. Jan says:

    I have stage four colon cancer. I had not one of these topics/symptoms mentioned above.

  7. Paul says:

    I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Anus. Colo-Rectal cancer at age 39. I was told that chemo would kill me, cause I was so anemic and I wouldn’t recover. I’ve had 9 operations in 5 years. 1 for the diagnoses, 1 for the removal, 7 for complications like hernias and so forth. My tumor was sent to the Mayo Clinic and I was told it was caused by the HPV virus. I only had blood in my stool, pain while trying to pass stool, and anemia. My suggestion is to not wait until your 50 for a colonoscopy, if I had, I wouldn’t be here today.

  8. Lorna says:

    My Father died of colon cancer. I have a colon scope every 3 years. they always find polyps. that kind that can turn to cancer. they take them out. and I wait 3 years and have it done again. I try and eat a healthy diet. lots of vegetables and grains. I guess that’s about all I can do. is there anything else I can do to stop this from happening to me that happened to my father? I am also type 2 diabetic.

  9. Brenda says:

    This is a great list of symptoms. I have just been diagnosed with colo-rectal cancer, and I had suspected a hemorroid was the trouble. I had read other lists of ‘signs and symptoms’, but none read like the one above. I had three of the symptoms on this list…trouble passing stool, narrow, ribbon-like stool with bright red blood in a stripe, and feeling an urgent need to go without having any stool to pass. I seriously had not read another list anywhere with those exact symptoms listed. I would certainly have gone to the doc sooner. My docs are very optimistic about my case…I hope somone else benefits from this!!!

  10. steph says:

    I Keep having terrible pains in my stomach just above my naval the doc said it ibs I’ve just cum thru cervical cancer but now worried I might have it somewhere else I’m making myself ill with worry. I have mri scans every 3 months an it’s always ok

    • Jenny says:

      Hi Steph, you describe the pain in the stomach as terrible. I am not a doctor but I wonder whether you were referred to do further tests regarding your IBS. Have you done a stool test or food intolerance test or other tests? as for colorectal cancer, it is most commonly found in routine colonoscopy screenings. Talk to your doctor about your concerns and whether it is possible to do further tests to find more details.

  11. Terri says:

    I sometimes have what feels like a charley horse in my rectum. It’s very uncomfortable and is usually relieved when I either pass gas or force myself to have a bowel movement by inserting water into my rectum with a rubber bulb ( like an enema)
    I’ve always had problems with hemmroids since my pregnancies many years ago,
    so finding blood in the toilet bowl rarely isn’t too alarming. I’ve had colonoscopys when requiired and have had polyps removed. Are you familiar with these ‘charley horse’ symptoms?

    • Jenny says:

      Hi Terri, I’m personally not familiar with this, but I was able to find more information about it. It is called Proctalgia, and you can read more about it here.

    • Kat says:

      That is interesting you describe that. I’ve also had that. I’ve never asked the doctor about it, but it almost feels like I am trying to lay an egg out of my backside. I know sounds weird.

  12. johny says:

    I dont know how to describd how i am feeli g right now, i feel like want to loss bowel but hard to comeout, need to force my self to help myself to come out of it and small waste came in, .,what can i do?

  13. Kathy says:

    all of the symptoms for the colorectal cancer were my symptoms for Crohns Disease. How would you use those to catch the Cancer if those are you symptoms for Crohns?

  14. Maria says:

    Thank you for this information. I am left with IBS type symptoms/pelvic radiation disease after pelvic radiotherapy for cervical cancer. Trying not to let every symptom cause me concern but very hard to decipher what’s what after treatment and being thrown into menopause. Currently suffering with blood in stools that I believe is coming from the colon and tenderness in left hip/groin area. This has started after another flare up and not being very good sticking to my bland diet (I really like brown bread). It’s the first time I’ve read about IBS symptoms affecting the lower left quadrant so thank you for the detailed information in this post.

  15. Pattie says:

    I have had constipation problems since i was 5 and i am now 73. I had every test there is and the diagnosis is always the same, IBS..fiber gives me diarrhea so i can’t win..but i was told there was no cancer and it is not likely..I do however have bad

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