The symptoms of bowel cancer can be subtle and don't necessarily make you feel ill. However, it's worth trying simple treatments for a short time to see if they get better.

More than 90% of people with bowel cancer have one of the following combinations of symptoms:

  • a persistent change in bowel habit – going more often, with looser stools and sometimes tummy (abdominal) pain
  • blood in the stools without other piles (haemorrhoids) symptoms – 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

Constipation, where you pass harder stools less often, is rarely caused by serious bowel conditions.

When to seek medical advice

Although bowel cancer symptoms are very common, you should see your GP if they persist for more than four weeks. Most people with these symptoms don't have bowel cancer.

Try the bowel cancer symptom checker for advice on what treatments you can try to see if your symptoms get better, and when you should see your GP to discuss whether any tests are necessary.

See your doctor if your symptoms persist or keep coming back after stopping treatment, regardless of their severity or your age.

Read more about diagnosing bowel cancer.

Bowel obstruction

In some cases, bowel cancer can stop digestive waste passing through the bowel. This is known as a bowel obstruction.

Symptoms of a bowel obstruction can include:

  • intermittent, and occasionally severe, abdominal pain – this is always provoked by eating
  • unintentional weight loss – with persistent abdominal pain
  • constant swelling of the tummy – with abdominal pain
  • vomiting – with constant abdominal swelling

A bowel obstruction is a medical emergency. If you suspect your bowel is obstructed, you should see your GP quickly. If this isn't possible, go to the accident and emergency (A&E) department of your nearest hospital.

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Page last reviewed: 06/10/2016

Next review due: 06/10/2019