Bowel cancer: Dr Amir explains symptoms to look out for
Tell-tale bowel cancer signs like tiredness and abdominal pain were nothing new for Tricia Howell, now 45, from Aylesbury. Working as a tube driver for London Underground, the woman was always tired because of her shift work. Her polycystic ovaries meant that pain in the abdominal area was nothing unusual either. However, when the then-43-year-old spotted a red flag in her toilet bowl, she became suspicious that something might not be quite right.
Tricia told Express.co.uk: “It was about Christmas 2021, when I noticed tiny little specks of red in my toilet and I didn’t think too much of it.
“I thought maybe it’s just some food that’s gone through undigested because I didn’t have any other symptoms.”
But two months later in February 2022, she noticed that the specks of red were getting bigger and became more like little clots.
This prompted Tricia to speak to her GP. Despite being “embarrassed” to talk about her poo at 9.30am on a Thursday morning over the phone, she didn’t hesitate to describe her symptoms.
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The doctor asked her if she was tired but the nature of her work meant that tiredness was a part of her daily routine.
“He said, ‘Do you get pains?’ and I said, ‘Well, I’ve got polycystic ovaries, so each month I get pains in my stomach,’” she recalled.
It wasn’t until the doctor asked about any changes in her poo that she realised her stool had gotten slightly softer, thinner and changed colours.
“But they were really quite simple, delicate symptoms that you wouldn’t necessarily notice,” Tricia added.
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Worryingly, many patients with bowel cancer report that they don’t experience every possible sign from the list of main symptoms.
In fact, they often explain that the symptoms they have are vague, subtle and “delicate” just like in Tricia’s case.
This makes paying attention to any small changes front and centre, with the key symptoms of bowel cancer including:
- Changes in your poo (having softer poo, diarrhoea or constipation that is not usual for you)
- Needing to poo more or less often than usual for you
- Blood in your poo, which may look red or black
- Bleeding from your bottom
- Feeling like you need to poo often, even if you’ve just been to the toilet
- Tummy pain
- Losing weight without trying
- Feeling very tired for no reason.
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The NHS recommends seeing a GP if you have any symptoms of bowel cancer for three weeks or more.
After the phone call with her doctor, Tricia had to undergo a series of tests, including a colonoscopy and a CT scan, before she received the gloomy news of stage three bowel cancer diagnosis in March 2022.
She had an operation to remove part of her colon on May 17.
Unfortunately, Tricia got a few infections in her belly button and her larger wound, following the surgery, which meant that she needed to have her wounds packed and dressed daily by nurses.
The last part of her cancer journey consisted of eight cycles of chemotherapy which she described as “really tough”.
While the type of chemotherapy she received didn’t trigger hair loss, she battled other uncomfortable side effects and complications, ranging from chest infections to anxiety.
Tricia said: “The anxiety, I think, was the worst side effect because I’m quite a confident person, I’m quite easy-going and all of a sudden, I couldn’t be on my own.
“I literally had to be with someone all the time which is quite difficult when you live on your own.”
Fortunately, Tricia was surrounded by her family and a team of “fantastic” nurses that helped her get through it.
She completed her last cycle of chemotherapy in February 2023 and is now getting her “life back”. Tricia said: “As far as my oncologist is concerned, I have finished my treatment.”
The 45-year-old has one more CT scan planned for this April and she will also be monitored for the next five years.
But Tricia is feeling a “lot better” and positive. She was able to go back to work for the first time this week and she is currently planning weekends away, a trip to Mexico, concerts and other social activities she has sorely missed during her “difficult” treatment.
She added: “That’s what’s most important to me now – spending time with the people that were there for me and supported me because it was not easy.
“I’ve literally dragged myself through chemo but it was for my friends, my family, and everyone that supported me.”
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