Be bowel aware

When it is found early, bowel cancer can be treated very successfully. Try to be aware of changes that could be a sign of bowel cancer. See your GP if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Bleeding from the back passage (rectum) or blood in your poo.
  • Looser poo or diarrhoea that lasts for 3 weeks or more.
  • A feeling that your bowel is not properly empty after going to the toilet.
  • A pain or lump in the tummy or back passage.
  • Loss of weight or appetite.

Feeling more tired (fatigued) than usual for some time, with no obvious reason.

Bowel problems are very common, so these symptoms may not be caused by cancer. But if you have a higher risk of bowel cancer, it is important to get them checked.

Reducing your risk

Changes to lifestyle could prevent over half of bowel cancers in the UK. Here are some things you can do to reduce your risk of bowel cancer.

Eat a healthy diet

Following a healthy diet can reduce your risk of bowel cancer. Eat plenty of fibre, such as beans, oatmeal, fruit and vegetables. Aim to eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day.

Avoid processed meat and reduce the amount of red meat, fat and salt you eat.

Keep physically active

Regular physical activity can reduce your risk of bowel cancer. Being physically active does not mean you have to go to the gym – regular walking, cycling or swimming can be enough.

Try to do at least 2½ hours of moderate-intensity physical activity a week. This could be made up of 30 minutes of activity each day, for 5 days. You could break it up further into 10 minutes of activity, 3 times a day.

Moderate-intensity physical activity is when you are still able to talk, but your breathing is quicker and deeper. Your body is warming up and your face may have a healthy glow. Your heart is beating faster than normal, but not racing.

If you are not sure how to get started, your GP can give you advice.

Give up smoking

Smoking tobacco increases your risk of developing bowel cancer and many other types of cancer. Giving up smoking is the most important thing you can do for your health.

Help is available if you want to stop smoking. Ask your GP for advice, or contact your national stop-smoking service. You can find your nearest stop smoking service through the NHS website.

Limit how much alcohol you drink

NHS guidelines suggest that both men and women should:

  • not regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol in a week
  • spread the alcohol units they drink in a week over 3 or more days
  • try to have several alcohol-free days every week.

A unit of alcohol is half a pint of ordinary-strength beer, lager or cider, one small glass (125ml) of wine, or a single measure (25ml) of spirits.

For more information about alcohol and drinking guidelines visit drinkaware.co.uk.

How diet can help reduce your risk of cancer

Macmillan Specialist Dietician Helen Kennedy explains how a healthy diet can reduce your risk of cancer and help if you're having treatment.

About our cancer information videos

How diet can help reduce your risk of cancer

Macmillan Specialist Dietician Helen Kennedy explains how a healthy diet can reduce your risk of cancer and help if you're having treatment.

About our cancer information videos

Back to Bowel screening

The FOB and FIT tests

These tests check for tiny amounts of blood in poo, which can be a sign of polyps or bowel cancer.

Bowel scope screening

This test looks at the lower part of your large bowel. It can help find cancer at an early stage.

Colonoscopy

A colonoscopy is a test that looks at the inside of the large bowel.

Virtual colonoscopy

This test is also called a CT colonography. It uses a CT scanner to build a picture of the bowel.