Bowel cancer can affect anyone, at any age – but what symptoms should you be on the look out for? Here, Dr Natalie Direkze, a consultant gastroenterologist at OneWelbeck Digestive Health in London, provides the answers you need…

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“Anyone can get screened for bowel cancer and early diagnosis is best, as it can lead to more effective treatment and care,” Natalie explains. “There’s no need to feel shy or embarrassed. This is a really important decision, one that could be potentially life-saving.”

Below, Natalie answers some commonly asked questions and shares what can be done to prevent, diagnose, and treat bowel cancer.

Q: What are the symptoms of bowel cancer?

A: It’s important to ‘know your normal’ routine. Everyone’s bowel movements are different, which is why you should only compare yours to your usual habits and no one else’s. Some things to check for are:

A change in bowel habit

– This should be a consistent change over time, where the form of your stool changes into something looser, or if you notice you need to go to the toilet more often than usual. Blood in your stool – Regardless of its cause, it’s always advisable to get this checked if it persists. Bleeding can also occur higher up in the bowel and you may not notice. This can cause anaemia, fatigue and shorter breath during activity, so if you are experiencing any of these symptoms for over a few weeks, it’s best to see your GP and request a blood test. Abdominal pain – Persistent abdominal pain and bloating, brought on by eating, could be a sign of bowel cancer as it develops. It’s best to seek advice if these symptoms continue.

Q: How can I prevent bowel cancer?

A: While no one can be assured of avoiding bowel cancer in their lifetime, particularly if it runs in the family history, there are some steps you can take to lower the risk:

Avoid a diet of highly processed or red meat. Reduce your alcohol consumption. Exercise a minimum of three times per week. Avoid smoking. Maintain a healthy weight and BMI.

Q: What is bowel cancer?

A: It’s a general term used to describe the growth of cancer cells within the bowels. It may also be referred to as rectal or colon cancer.

The cells of the bowel lining continually replace themselves to maintain a healthy gut. However, sometimes a mutation in our genes or a mistake in the body can cause cells in the lining to overgrow, and develop into warty growths. These growths are called polyps, which, if left untreated, can become cancerous.

Because of the area of the body in question, many people often avoid seeking medical advice due to embarrassment. However, it’s vitally important to get screened for bowel cancer if you notice any symptoms.

Early diagnosis can enable us to catch the disease within its first stages, preventing it from worsening, and increasing the chances of successful treatment.

We’ll be there throughout every step of the process to provide support and reassurance – there’s no need to feel afraid.

Q: How can I find out if I have bowel cancer?

A: We offer a unique service with swift appointment availability for colonoscopy for cancer screening, for those with or without symptoms. Patients will need their medical history taken prior to the procedure, as well as going through bowel preparation the day before the colonoscopy.

Q: What is a colonoscopy and how can it help to treat bowel cancer?

A: A colonoscopy offers detection and diagnosis for bowel or colon cancer all in one procedure. It can also help to prevent colon cancer. The procedure provides a detailed view of the colon via a camera through the rectum, where pre-cancerous polyps can be detected and removed.

Not all polyps are cancerous and this will be determined during the process. People often believe the procedure is uncomfortable and can hurt. We offer sedation that helps you to relax and ease any discomfort. You can decide if you’d prefer to be awake or asleep during the procedure.

Once removed, the polyps will be sent off to the laboratory to investigate if they are cancerous or benign. We can then advise if further treatment will be necessary, or recommend returning for a check-up in a few years to ensure everything is still ok. Our specialists will discuss your results and let you know what the next steps are to take. You’ll be able to discuss further treatment options at the centre.

The centre is a Covid-free environment, with a private room, cubicle and toilet to ensure privacy and maximum comfort throughout.

For more information or to book a consultation, visit

Contact or 020 3327 7308.