Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK and, this Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, lead cancer nurse at East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust Alison Paterson is reminding the community of the disease’s symptoms and what you can expect if referred for further tests.

The earlier bowel cancer is spotted, the more treatable it’s likely to be – nine in 10 people with bowel cancer survive if it is diagnosed at the earliest stage – and, whilst bowel cancer can happen to any of us, there are factors which make you more susceptible.

These include: being aged over 50 (although it can happen at any age), a strong family history of bowel cancer, type 2 diabetes and an unhealthy lifestyle (eating too much red or processed meat, not eating enough fibre, being overweight, smoking and drinking too much alcohol).

The main symptoms of bowel cancer are: bleeding from your bottom; blood in your poo; a change in how often you poo or regularly having diarrhoea or constipation; a pain or lump in your tummy, losing weight or feeling very tired all the time but you’re not sure why.

Even if you have just one of these symptoms for three-weeks or more, please book an appointment to see your GP as soon as you can and ask for an at-home test.

We know talking about poo and going to the toilet can be embarrassing, but your GP will understand and will be used to talking about these things.

Seeing your GP as soon as you can when you have symptoms can help to diagnose bowel cancer early.

If you can’t get an appointment straight away, please keep trying. Remember that your GP is there to help you and to make sure you get the right care at the right time.

The NHS also sends people aged between 54 and 74 a bowel screening test every two years and it’s really important that you do this at home when it arrives.

Even if your test is negative but your symptoms are still there, please go back to your GP.

Depending on your symptoms and the result of your at home test, you may be referred to hospital.

Remember – being referred to hospital doesn’t mean you have bowel cancer. But acting quickly can help to spot cancer early when it’s likely to be most treatable.

If the hospital tests show cancer cells in your colon or rectum, you will need more tests for your medical team to decide on the best treatment plan.

We know this can be a very scary and worrying time for patients, but your team of specialists at the hospital are there to provide you with the care and support you need and will guide you through the process.

In the words of Dame Deborah James – check your poo, it could save your life. For more information, visit the Bowel Cancer UK website: