23/10/2018 10:25 BST

Bowel Cancer Is On The Rise In Young People – Here Are The Symptoms

Are you going to the toilet more often or have your stools changed colour?

Bowel cancer is on the rise among young people, according to new research, which found rates of the disease among people aged 20-39 years old rose 7.4 per cent a year between 2008 and 2016.

While researchers are unsure of what is causing the rise, the strongest suspect is obesity and diet, the Guardian reported.

Despite the rise in cancer cases among those under 40, researchers said they don’t recommend screening for young people as the risk still remains, on the whole, low.

Researchers used data from the national cancer registries of 20 European countries including the UK, Slovenia and Germany, and the findings were presented at the UEG Week gastroenterology meeting in Vienna.

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Almost 42,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK. But despite the disease being the fourth most common cancer and the second biggest cancer killer in the UK, awareness is limited.

A poll of 4,000 UK adults commissioned by Bowel Cancer UK and Beating Bowel Cancer found more than a third (35 per cent) of people couldn’t name any symptoms of the disease, with men less likely than women to recognise the signs.

What Is Bowel Cancer?

Bowel cancer is commonly used to describe cancer in the bowel, however depending on where the cancer starts, it can be called other things – such as colon or rectal cancer.

It usually starts as a small polyp in the lining of the bowel. If spotted early and removed, the cancer can’t develop. However, if a polyp goes undetected then it eventually grows and turns cancerous.

According to the NHS, most people diagnosed with the disease are over the age of 60. However, that’s not to say younger people don’t suffer too.

There are a number of possible factors which can increase a person’s risk of bowel cancer, these include: old age, a diet high in red or processed meats and low in fibre, being overweight or obese, not exercising enough, drinking alcohol and smoking, or having a family history of the disease. 


:: Changes in bowel habits – for example, going to the toilet more often or a change in the consistency and colour of your stools.

:: A lump in your abdomen which doesn’t go away.

:: Unexplained weight loss.

:: Pain in the abdomen.

:: Red or dark-coloured blood in your faeces.

Unfortunately, some of these symptoms can be confused with other health problems – piles, for example, or eating something that doesn’t agree with you. If you experience any of the above symptoms, speak to your GP.


Initially, a doctor will examine your stomach to check for any lumps in your abdomen. They will also perform a digital rectal examination (DRE) which helps them identify whether there are any lumps in the back passage. Overall, the tests should take less than a minute. 

The NHS also runs a number of bowel cancer-screening programmes for people aged 55 or over, and self-screening kits are available to buy from pharmacies. 

“Further hospital tests include using medical instruments to check inside the colon or bowel,” said Dr Nitin Shori, NHS GP and medical director of the Pharmacy2U Online Doctor service.


Surgery is the most common treatment for bowel cancer. According to Dr Shori, if the cancer is caught quickly enough, it can be possible to remove a small part of the colon.

“Patients often also require chemotherapy or radiotherapy,” he added. 

If the cancer is detected early, treatment can cure bowel cancer and prevent it from coming back. Unfortunately, a complete cure isn’t always possible and there’s sometimes a risk that the cancer could recur at a later stage.