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Let’s talk about bowel cancer

We're taking a moment to look at the symptoms of bowel cancer during Bowel Cancer Awareness Month

It’s Bowel Cancer Awareness Month throughout April and we wanted to take a moment to highlight some of the stats and symptoms in case they’re helpful to anyone reading. We are not doctors, and all of this information is in the public domain, but if we hope that in sharing it, it could help someone to get a diagnosis a little earlier. 

Bowel cancer statistics

For some context, bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK. When it’s caught early (in general terms), it’s highly treatable.

  • One in in 15 men and one in 18 women in the UK will be diagnosed with bowel cancer in their lifetime.
  • There are around 42,900 new bowel cancer cases in the UK every year, that's nearly 120 every day.
  • Most people with bowel cancer are diagnosed when they are over the age of 50, however, more than 2,500 people under 50 are diagnosed each year in the UK.
  • When diagnosed at its earliest stage, almost all (98%) people with bowel cancer will survive their disease for one year or more, compared with more than 4 in 10 (44%) people when the disease is diagnosed at the latest stage.

Bowel cancer symptoms

As with all things, cancer can present in a number of different ways, and you know your body best. So, if you are ever concerned, it’s always better to speak to your GP sooner rather than later.

However, there are certain bowel cancer symptoms that advisory bodies suggest being aware of. The NHS says that 90% of people with bowel cancer have one of the following combinations of symptoms, and suggest that if they persist for more than three weeks you should see your doctor:

  • A persistent change in bowel habit
  • Blood in your stool, but without the other symptoms of haemorrhoids
  • Abdominal pain, discomfort or bloating always brought on by eating – sometimes resulting in a reduction in the amount of food eaten and weight loss

Bowel Cancer UK adds:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason
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Typical treatments for bowel cancer

Bowel cancer is quite a general term as cancer can occur in different parts of the bowel. Where it occurs as well as the stage and type will have an impact on the type of treatment you have, as will other factors around individual health and wellbeing:

  • Cancer of the small bowel is called small bowel cancer
  • Cancer of the large bowel is called colon cancer
  • Cancer of the back passage is called rectal cancer
  • Cancer of the bowel opening is called anal cancer

Treatments generally include one or more of the following:


Surgery is one way in which bowel cancer might be treated, and sometimes this is enough in itself.

  • For colon cancer, this is called a colectomy and it usually involves removing the affected section of the colon.
  • For rectal cancer, there’s a number of different types of surgery, depending on how far the cancer has spread.
  • Some bowel cancer patients have stoma surgery, which is where a section of the bowel is removed and the remaining bowel joined. To allow the bowel to recover, this can involve having a temporary stoma (bag). When this related to the small bowel it’s called an ileostomy and when it’s the large bowel it’s called a colostomy.


Radiotherapy is sometimes used as part of the treatment plan. It can be used before surgery, instead of surgery or as a palliative treatment to control symptoms with advanced bowel cancer. Short-term side effects can include feeling nauseous, fatigue, diarrhoea, irritated skin or a burning sensation when peeing.


Like radiotherapy, chemotherapy can be used either before surgery, instead of surgery or as a palliative treatment to control symptoms with advanced bowel cancer. It can either be in the form of tablets, an intravenous drip or a combination of both, with a course lasting anything up to six months. Short-term side effects can include fatigue, feeling sick, diarrhoea, mouth ulcers, hair loss with some types of chemo, and/or numbness, tingling or burning in your hands, feet and neck.

Spa treatments and your cancer journey

All cancer treatments have their side effects that doctors will be able to offer advice on. From our perspective, spas are certainly not going to fix all problems, but with properly trained spa therapists and the right products, they can help to ease some side effects of cancer treatments and to provide support on your cancer journey. For example, the right type of massage has been shown to help ease pain, improve mood and help with sleeplessness. Meanwhile, dedicated products lines can help to ease some of the skincare side effects of cancer treatment.

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If you would like to find out more about spas where therapists are trained to provide the best support on your cancer journey, you can follow the link to our Safe Hands for Cancer experiences, or read more articles on this blog.

Read more about cancer support in UK spas

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