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What is bowel cancer?

The bowel is part of the digestive system. It is made up of the small bowel (small intestine) and the large bowel (colon and rectum). Cancer affecting the large bowel is known as bowel cancer or colorectal cancer.

Bowel cancer most commonly develops from pre-cancerous growths known as polyps. Not all polyps turn into cancer. If found, they can be removed before they become cancerous. Bowel cancer can also be related to an inherited genetic risk, this means you may have an increased risk of developing bowel cancer based on a history of cancer in your family.

How can you reduce your risk of bowel cancer?

Dr Jonathan Hoare, Consultant Gastroenterologist at London Digestive Health explains the steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing bowel cancer.

As the fourth most common cancer in the UK, it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer. If diagnosed early, it is a very treatable form of cancer - the earlier it is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat and the higher the chance of successful treatment.

Bowel cancer is more common in people over 50 years of age, but it can affect anyone and some types are more common in younger adults. If you notice any changes to your health, or are experiencing symptoms of bowel cancer, don’t delay in seeing your doctor.

The most common symptoms of bowel cancer include:

  • An unexplained and persistent change to your bowel habits
  • Blood in your stool, or bleeding from your bottom
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue – extreme, unexplained tiredness
  • Pain in your stomach or a noticeable lump in your stomach

If you have any new, persistent, or unusual symptoms, or you feel something is wrong, even if it is not covered on this list, do not delay in speaking to your GP.

What are the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer?

Mr Alastair Windsor, Consultant Colorectal Surgeon & Chair of the HCA UK Gastrointestinal Cancer Board, tells you about the signs and symptoms to be aware of.

Danielle’s story – no matter how old you are, or how fit, if something doesn’t feel right, get checked.

When Danielle, aged 28, started to experience bowel symptoms, she saw her doctor. After being diagnosed with bowel cancer, she underwent surgery.

But when things still didn’t feel right, Danielle sought the expertise of Professor Sina Dorudi, Consultant Colorectal Surgeon at London Digestive Centre

Danielle's story
What are the most googled questions about bowel cancer?
Dr Cliona Gallagher

GP at HCA Healthcare UK

If you are experiencing any bowel symptoms or feel something is wrong, make an appointment with your GP right away, even if you have had bowel screening previously. 

If you’ve seen your GP about these symptoms before, but they persist, see your GP again. Being vigilant about your health is never a waste of a doctor's time. If it’s nothing serious, your mind will be put at ease. But if it is cancer, early diagnosis can make all the difference. 

Remember, GPs see many patients with bowel symptoms so there is no need to feel embarrassed. These symptoms could be related to other more common health conditions, but don’t delay in getting them checked.


At HCA Healthcare UK, across our network of hospitals and clinics, we have extensive expertise in diagnosing and treating cancer. Our teams of cancer specialists, including consultants, cancer nurses and other cancer healthcare experts, come together to ensure that each individual patient receives a personalised treatment plan.

Our cancer care network is based in London and Manchester, where patients can expect the very best diagnostic tests, treatment, aftercare and support.


London Bridge Hospital

Rated ‘Outstanding’ by the CQC

About London Bridge Hospital
Private Care at Guy's

Private Care at Guy's

World-class cancer centre & home to our robotic surgical programme

About Private Care at Guy's

The Christie Private Care

A private partnership with The Christie NHS Foundation Trust

About The Christie Private Care


Partnership with University College Hospital

About HCA UK at University College Hospital

The Harley Street Clinic

Fast access to world-leading acute care

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Leaders in Oncology Care (LOC)

LOC - Leaders in Oncology Care

Tailored Medicine, Individual Care

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The Princess Grace Hospital

Latest innovative technology and pioneering treatments

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The Wellington Hospital

The UK's largest private hospital specialising in complex care

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Sarah Cannon Research Institute

Advancing cancer care through innovative clinical trials

More about SCRI

The Lister Hospital

Private care in the heart of Chelsea

About The Lister Hospital
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Looking for a second opinion?

If you have been diagnosed with cancer, whether or not you have started treatment, a second opinion can give you reassurance and peace of mind.  

Our second opinion service is led by expert consultants. They will provide a comprehensive review of your current and past medical history, to identify the best treatment options for you. This review may identify new treatment options or simply confirm that you are already receiving the best treatment. Either way, it can help you make an informed decision about what is best for you.

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