Signs and Symptoms

What does the Bowel do?

digestive system Simplified Digestive System

The bowel is considered to be a part of the digestive or gastrointestinal system. It is designed to help the body absorb nutrients and fluids from the foods we eat and drink.

After taking out everything the body needs, the bowel then expels the leftover waste. The beginning of the bowel is the small intestine (which is actually 20 feet long), sometimes referred to as the small bowel. This is where the useful nutrients are absorbed from what you eat. The small bowel delivers the waste to the colon, or large bowel. The small bowel can deliver up to 2 pints (1 litre) of waste to the colon per day.

What is Bowel Cancer?

A Bowel Polyp

Bowel cancer is also referred to as colorectal or colon cancer. Nearly all bowel cancers develop in the large bowel - two-thirds of these are in the colon and one-third in the rectum. Most bowel cancers develop from polyps which are usually non-cancerous and, once detected, can be removed easily if caught early enough.

Symptoms of Bowel Cancer

Early bowel cancer may have no symptoms. Some symptoms of later bowel cancer can also occur in people with less serious medical problems, such as haemorrhoids (piles). See your doctor if you notice any of the symptoms below.

The initial symptoms of bowel cancer include:

  • blood in your stools (faeces) or bleeding from your rectum
  • a change to your normal bowel habits that persists for more than six weeks, such as diarrhoea, constipation or passing stools more frequently than usual
  • abdominal pain
  • unexplained weight loss

As bowel cancer progresses, it can sometimes cause bleeding inside the bowel. Eventually, this can lead to your body not having enough red blood cells. This is known as anaemia.

Symptoms of anaemia include:

  • fatigue
  • breathlessness

In some cases, bowel cancer can cause an obstruction in the bowel. Symptoms of a bowel obstruction include:

  • a feeling of bloating, usually around the belly button
  • abdominal pain
  • constipation
  • vomiting