‘Clean Eating Culture’ Means Brits Risk Misdiagnosing Bowel Cancer For Food Intolerance

11% of Brits have self-diagnosed themselves as gluten or dairy intolerant.

08/09/2017 00:01

“Clean eating culture” could be leading to a rise in Brits misdiagnosing symptoms of cancer, with some trying to manage crucial warning signs themselves with diet changes.

That’s according to new research from Bupa, which reveals that one in 10 (11%) have self-diagnosed themselves as gluten or dairy intolerant within the last year.

What’s more, nearly one in four (24%) people are treating potentially serious symptoms such as bloating or weight loss by changing their diet rather than seeing a doctor.  

In light of the results, experts are calling on the public to seek professional medical help when experiencing symptoms such as abnormal bloating, cramps and discomfort as they can be warning signs of potentially fatal bowel cancer.

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According to the survey of more than 2,000 adults, women are more likely than men to self-diagnose digestive concerns and remove food groups or change their eating habits, while those between the ages of 25 and 34 are the most likely age group. 

Bowel cancer can be diagnosed at any age, however the risk increases with age. However, one in five (20%) of those aged 55 suffering from potentially serious symptoms have responded by making changes to their diet.

More than half (56%) of respondents cannot identify the symptoms of bowel cancer. Although over 55s are more aware of at least one of the symptoms, when prompted, only 2% of respondents could name all the symptoms.

Bowel cancer affects over 40,000 people every year in the UK, so Bupa is stressing the importance of not misdiagnosing symptoms. 

Amanda Squire, oncology nurse at Bupa, said: “People have become more aware of how food can impact how they feel which is great, but it has led to a rise in DIY doctors and people often misdiagnose themselves and treat digestive disorders with dietary changes rather than seeking an expert medical opinion.

“Unfortunately we do see cases where someone has thought that their digestive problems were caused by a wheat intolerance, or their weight loss was due to a new diet when it was actually more serious.

“Early diagnosis of bowel cancer is crucial to survival which is why we launched our Direct Access self referral service two years ago.”

The report identified a trend to avoid whole food types, with 23% significantly reducing their sugar intake, 13% following a low fat diet and 6% avoiding carbohydrates altogether.

Squire continued: “We would always encourage people to seek advice before completely removing a food group from their diet as a balanced diet can help to promote digestive health.”

 According to Bupa, symptoms of bowel cancer to look out for include:

  • Abdominal bloating, cramps or discomfort

  • Change in bowel movements

  • Constipation

  • Diarrhoea

  • Blood in stools

  • Sudden / extreme weight loss

  • Stomach pains / lump in stomach

  • Nausea/vomiting

  • Extreme tiredness

If you’re worried about symptoms of bowel cancer, speak to your GP or a health professional.  

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