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Symptoms of bowel cancer

Main symptoms of bowel cancer

Symptoms of bowel cancer may include:

  • changes in your poo, such as having softer poo, diarrhoea or constipation that is not usual for you
  • needing to poo more or less often than usual for you
  • blood in your poo, which may look red or black
  • bleeding from your bottom
  • often feeling like you need to poo, even if you've just been to the toilet
  • tummy pain
  • a lump in your tummy
  • bloating
  • losing weight without trying
  • feeling very tired for no reason

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

  • you have any symptoms of bowel cancer for 3 weeks or more

Try not to be embarrassed. The doctor or nurse will be used to talking about these symptoms.

Urgent advice: Ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111 if:

  • your poo is black or dark red
  • you have bloody diarrhoea

You can call 111 or get help from 111 online.

Immediate action required: Go to A&E or call 999 if:

  • you're bleeding non-stop from your bottom
  • there's a lot of blood, for example, the toilet water turns red or you see large blood clots


Some of these symptoms are very common and can be caused by other conditions.

Having the symptoms does not definitely mean you have bowel cancer, but it's important to get checked by a GP.

If your symptoms are caused by cancer, finding it early may mean it's easier to treat.

What happens at your GP appointment

The doctor will ask you more about your symptoms, general health, medical history, and if anyone in your family has had bowel cancer.

Depending on your symptoms, the doctor may feel your tummy and ask to do a rectal examination. This is where they put a gloved finger inside your bottom to check for any lumps.

You'll be asked to undress from the waist down for the rectal exam. You can ask for a male or female doctor or nurse.

You can ask for someone else to be in the room with you when the rectal examination happens.

You may be asked for a poo sample (stool sample) for testing, or be given a home test kit called a faecal immunochemical test (FIT), to collect a small sample of poo and send it to a lab. These check if you're bleeding from your bowel, which can be a sign of bowel cancer.

You may also be asked to have a blood test.

Referral to a specialist

The GP may refer you for more tests or to see a specialist in hospital if they think you have symptoms that need to be investigated.

This may be an urgent referral, usually within 2 weeks, if you have certain symptoms. This does not definitely mean you have cancer.

Page last reviewed: 9 March 2023
Next review due: 9 March 2026