bowel cancer and IBS

April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month

April has arrived, which brings with it Bowel Cancer Awareness Month. Throughout this month, Bowel Cancer UK will be heading up the campaign and using it an opportunity to encourage people to get involved and spread awareness of the condition, in as many ways as possible, including fundraising.  This year’s theme is ‘Be a Star, Bake a Cake‘, which means you can download a pack for organising your own bake-sale. The proceeds will be going to vital research studies, and wide awareness can be raised by posting pictures of the cakes to social media with the #STOPbowelcancer tag.

April is also IBS Awareness Month, and with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) affecting an estimated 9- 23% of people worldwide, this increasingly common condition is also due much attention, particularly since many cases are thought to be undiagnosed.


Bowel Cancer and its Symptoms

Bowel cancer is a general term for cancer that begins and manifests in the large bowel. It is one of the more common types of cancer, and an estimated 40,000 new cases are diagnosed every year. It is thought that in the UK, 1 in 20 people will suffer from bowel cancer at some point in their life.

Its symptoms can include:

  • Bleeding from the bottom and blood in stools
  • A change in bowel habit lasting three weeks or more
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason
  • A pain or lump in the abdomen or abdominal pain and bloating

In many cases, the symptoms may not be caused by bowel cancer, but if you are experiencing a number of these, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your GP. Over 90% of early diagnosed cases are treated successfully.

There are some risk factors, which include:

  • Age: 9 out of 10 sufferers are over 60
  • Diet: Those low in fibre and high in red or processed meat
  • Weight: Being overweight or obese
  • Exercise: Being inactive
  • Drinking Alcohol and Smoking: High levels of both
  • Family History: Having relatives who have suffered from bowel cancer.

The NHS offers comprehensive screenings with both home kits and at-clinic tests, so if you’re at risk and think you may have some of the symptoms, it’s a good idea to book in for one, if only for a little peace of mind.


IBS And Its Many Factors

If after reading about bowel cancer you’re feeling a little nervous about some of its symptoms, it is important to understand Irritable Bowel Syndrome. IBS is a long term condition connected with the digestive system. Far less understood and easily treated than bowel cancer, its symptoms can be both distressing and uncomfortable.

Sufferers usually start showing symptoms of the condition between the ages of 20-30 and around twice as many women are affected as men. It is thought to affect 1 in every 5 people at some point in their life.

While there is no known cure or vastly effective treatment, there are signs that the condition may improve over the years.


What causes it?

Its exact cause is unknown, but is generally understood to be linked to gut sensitivity, and a difficulty digesting food. This results in pain from the gut and constipation or diarrhoea due to food passing through the gut too slowly or quickly.

Certain foods can also seem to trigger a bout of IBS, and while the exact foods vary between sufferers, common ones include:

  • Alcohol
  • Fizzy Drinks
  • Chocolate
  • Caffeinated drinks (coffee, tea)
  • Processed snacks (crisps, biscuits)
  • Fatty or fried food

There’s also a psychological aspect to it – bouts of IBS can also be triggered by stress and anxiety, whether caused by trauma, or a change of environment or situation, such as moving house or changing jobs.

There are a few key symptoms, associated with IBS which are listed on NHS Choices. If you’re experiencing any of them, it’s best to book an appointment with your GP for a diagnosis. While IBS is common, symptoms of other, treatable, disorders can be mistaken for IBS such as SIBO or Coeliac Disease.


IBS Awareness Month

You can get involved in IBS awareness month by visiting the IFFGD website and downloading their information pack. You can also join the Digestive Health Alliance, and add your voice to the thousands of people who live with the condition are discussing and sharing their experiences. You can also work in your local area to raise awareness and perhaps even start your own local support group.


Is there a link between IBS and Bowel Cancer?

While there are some conditions of the bowel that do put you at higher risk of bowel cancer, such as Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis, there is currently no proven link between IBS and bowel cancer. Aside from suffering from a few similar symptoms, having IBS does not mean that you are at a higher risk of developing bowel cancer.


Local Support

Here in Berkshire, we have a number of bowel initiatives and services available:

Bowel Cancer and IBS are both relatively common disorders, and early diagnosis of both ensures you can expect a higher quality of life and support for living with the conditions. If you think you may be suffering from either, book yourself an appointment with your GP as soon as you can.