Tummy troubles for 3 weeks or more? Don't ignore the warning signs – tell your doctor.

Dr Ben Noble

If you’ve been suffering from tummy troubles such as diarrhoea, bloating, discomfort or anything else that just doesn’t feel right for three weeks or more, tell your doctor.

What could it be?

Some persistent symptoms may be caused by other conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or coeliac disease, which will still need treatment. But don't try to diagnose yourself. Go and see your doctor now to find out for sure. You won't be wasting their time.

Could it be cancer?

Persistent tummy troubles can be a sign of cancer, which is why it's so important to see your doctor as soon as you can. It’s probably nothing to worry about – but if it is cancer, the earlier it's found, the better. Treatment is more likely to be successful when cancer is diagnosed at an early stage.

When they found a growth in my pancreas, I was prepared for the worst. But I was fortunate – my cancer could be operated on.

Cliff Pettifor, aged 74

What are the warning signs?

Persistent tummy trouble can be a possible sign of cancer. Symptoms include:

  • diarrhoea
  • being bloated most days
  • discomfort in the tummy area
  • constipation
  • feeling sick (nausea)
  • blood in your poo

See your GP as soon as possible if you have any of these symptoms for three weeks or more.

If you notice any other unusual changes, such as a lump in the tummy area, postmenopausal bleeding or unexplained weight loss, again, your doctor will want to know. These can also be signs of cancer.

What will happen at my GP appointment?

You're not wasting anyone's time by getting your symptoms checked out, and your mind will be put at rest if it's not serious.

At your appointment, your GP may ask you some questions, such as how long have you had your symptoms and have they changed over time. They may examine you, to help them understand more about your symptoms. It may help to write down your symptoms before you go, so that you don’t forget anything on your visit. Your doctor may refer you for tests, for example blood tests or a scan.

If you've seen your GP and your symptoms persist, go back to your doctor. They will want to know.

Hear from our GPs about what to expect

About cancer

Every year around 288,000 people are diagnosed with cancer in England. It mainly affects older people, with around 9 in 10 cases diagnosed in the over-50s.

But the good news is you're much more likely to survive cancer if it's found at an early stage. And you're twice as likely to survive cancer than you were 40 years ago.

Reduce your risk

A healthy lifestyle can help reduce your risk of cancer. Stay healthy by:

Not smoking – smoking increases the risk of many cancers. If you smoke, the best thing you can do for your health is to quit. There's plenty of support available from the NHS. Visit nhs.uk/smokefree or call 0300 123 1044.

Looking after yourself – being overweight or obese can increase your risk of many cancers. Try to maintain a healthy weight and keep active. Swimming, cycling, dancing, walking, gardening – the more you can do, the better. Try to eat a healthy, balanced diet too, with plenty of fruit and vegetables.

Cutting down on alcohol – drinking alcohol is known to increase your risk of some cancers. The more you drink on a regular basis, the greater your risk. By cutting down on alcohol you'll reduce the risks to your health.

For more info on how to reduce your risk of cancer, visit nhs.uk/reduce-your-risk.

Content last reviewed: January 2017