Bowel Health

Faecal Occult Blood and Bowel Cancer

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK and the second biggest cancer killer.

Across the UK, around 43,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year. 1 in 15 men and 1 in 18 women will be diagnosed with bowel cancer during their lifetime.

Early detection is your best protection.

What is Bowel Cancer?

Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, occurs when abnormal cells in your body change and grow in an uncontrolled way. They keep dividing to make more and more abnormal cells. These can form a lump in the bowel, called a tumour.

Your bowel is part of your digestive system, which is divided into the small bowel and  the large bowel. Your large bowel is made up of the colon, rectum and anus. Bowel cancer is a general term for cancer that begins in the large bowel, however, depending on where it starts, bowel cancer is sometimes called colon cancer or rectal cancer. The term bowel cancer can also be used when talking about other cancers, such as anal cancer, small bowel cancer or anorectal melanoma cancer. 

Bowel cancer is more common in people over the age of 50, but unfortunately, it can affect anyone at any age.

Most bowel cancers develop from polyps, which are pre-cancerous growths, however, not all polyps develop into cancer. If polyps are detected in your bowel, they can be removed to prevent them from becoming cancerous, this is why early detection is your best protection.

What are the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer?

It is important to know the symptoms and act on them as fast as possible. If bowel cancer is diagnosed in an early stage, it's much easier to treat, with a higher chance of successful treatment (than those whose cancer had become more widespread). Be aware of the following bowel cancer possible symptoms:

  • Blood in your poo (stools), or bleeding from the back passage (rectum). This bleeding can happen for no obvious reason or is associated with a change in bowel h. It is important to see your doctor if you have any bleeding and get checked.
  • A persistent and unexplained change in your bowel habits (such as looser poo, pooing more often or constipation)
  • Persistent lower abdominal pain, bloating or discomfort, that's always caused by eating and may be associated with loss of appetite or significant unexplained weight loss
  • Feeling that you have not emptied your bowel properly after you poo
  • Unexplained tiredness, dizziness or breathlessness
  • A lower-then-normal level of red blood cells (anaemia)

These symptoms may as well be caused by other health problems, such as haemorrhoids (in the case of finding blood in your poo), or something you've eaten. If any of the symptoms persist for 3 weeks or more, or you are worried about any symptoms that you think could be caused by bowel cancer, you should see your doctor. 

What is your risk of Bowel Cancer and what causes it?

In the UK, nearly 43,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year.

Even though the cause of bowel cancer is largely unknown, there are some risk factors that can increase the chances of a person developing it. Having one or more risk factors doesn't necessarily mean you will get bowel cancer; also, not having any risk factors doesn't mean you will not get it. Hence, it's important to know your risk factors, be aware of the symptoms and check with the GP if anything concerns you, because early detection is your best protection.

Here are the factors that can increase your risk of bowel cancer:

  • Age - almost 9 in 10 people with bowel cancer are aged 60 or over
  • Family history - the risk increases if you have a first-degree relative diagnosed with bowel cancer (a parent, brother, sister, son or daughter) or if you have a first-degree relative diagnosed at a young age (under 45 years old). It's important to talk to y GP if you think you have a family history of bowel cancer, as they may be able to refer you for further screening
  • A history of non-cancerous growths (polyps) in your bowel
  • Longstanding inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • An unhealthy lifestyle, such as:
      • Diet - particularly a diet high in red or processed meats. It is estimated that around 13 out of 100 bowel cancer cases (around 13%) in the UK are linked to eating these meats. Also eating too little fibre can increase your risk of bowel cancer (eating too little fibre causes around 30 in 100 bowel cancer cases (around 30%) in the UK, according to Cancer Research UK)
      • Body weightbowel cancer is more common in overweight or obese people, being estimated that 11 out of 100 bowel cancers (11%) in the UK are linked to obesity or being overweight)
      • Lack of physical activity/exercisebeing inactive increases your risk of getting bowel cancer
      • Alcohol - alcohol increases the risk of bowel cancer. It has been estimated that around 6 out of 100 bowel cancers (around 6%) in the UK are linked to drinking alcohol, according to Cancer Research UK
      • Smoking - an estimated 7% of bowel cancer cases in the UK are linked to tobacco smoking, according to Bowel Cancer UK, and the cancer risk increases with the number of cigarettes smoked per day. Smokers are more likely to develop polyps, which could turn into cancer if not discovered. It is never too late to stop smoking but the sooner you stop the better

Bowel Cancer Screening

Early detection is your best protection. Bowel Cancer screening is a way of testing healthy people to see if they show any early signs of bowel cancer, when treatment has the best chance of working. Bowel Cancer screening can save lives! 

While many people may think that means a dreaded invasive colonoscopy, that doesn't necessarily have to be the case if you are not at increased risk.

There are other methods that can detect blood in your stool that isn't visible to the naked eye (which could be an indicator of cancer), such as faecal immunochemical tests (FIT), or faecal occult blood tests (FOB). 

Una at home offers an instant, convenient and accessible option to perform a faecal occult blood test at home, using the EZ Detect - Colon Disease Test. The EZ Detect Colon Disease Test doesn't require any stool handling or diet restrictions before doing the test and you do not need to mail the sample to a lab and wait for the results.

The EZ Detect Colon Disease Test can detect faecal occult blood (FOB) in your stool, with the advantage that it will screen the entire stool sample (rather than just a small amount, as per the standard tests, which may easily miss any occult blood due to intermittent bleeding). It also allows for three separate stools to be screened, which provides higher accuracy and reliability, making it more likely to detect blood in any of your stools.

For more information on the EZ Detect Colon Disease Test, see the product page on the link below.


References and further reading:


At-home screening for warning signs of colorectal disease

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Colon Disease Test

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