Bowel Cancer Awareness with DR. Philippa Kaye

A person dies from bowel cancer every thirty minutes in the UK.

That is a pretty sobering thought.

Bowel or colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, but the second biggest cancer killer with one in eighteen women being diagnosed with the condition in their lifetime. And I am one of them.

In May 2019, at the age of just 39, with three young kids at home I was diagnosed with stage 2 bowel cancer. I have had multiple surgeries, including two stays in ICU and a fifteen day stay in hospital in the pandemic, many procedures, six months of chemotherapy and more tests and scans than I can remember. In February this year I had my very first set of negative scans and scopes, meaning that I am now cancer free.

If you are a regular to the Pleasure Positivity Project, you know that we are all about breaking taboos. We talk about women’s health, sexual health and pleasure and don’t shy away from any topic. Now it is time to break down another taboo, and talk about poo! There is a very real reluctance to talk about poo, to look at it in the toilet, to go to the doctors about it, and yet, it could save your life. The earlier that bowel cancer is diagnosed the easier it is to treat. At the earliest stage, stage 1, bowel cancer has a five year survival rate of approximately 95%, this drops to 10% at stage four when the cancer has spread around the body.

Bowel Cancer symptoms and what you should be looking out for

  • A change in your bowel habit. Now we all have a bowel habit, you might go every other day, someone else might go three times a day, it doesn’t really matter, what matters is that it is your normal. We might all get a bit constipated occasionally or have diarrhoea if we get a tummy bug but if you get a persistent change in your bowel habit (more than three weeks), meaning you are going more or less than normal it needs to be checked out.
  • Blood in the stool – this can be anything from blood on the paper, mixed in with the poo or mixed with the water in the toilet bowl
  • Abdominal pain – again, you may get an occasional tummy ache but persistent abdominal or pelvic pain for more than three weeks needs to be assessed.
  • Unintentional weight loss – here you are not trying to lose weight but are, you may notice this as your clothes getting bigger.
  • Fatigue – of course we are all tired sometimes, but if you have persistent fatigue which seems abnormal to you get checked out.

Bowel Cancer diagnosis and treatment

When you go to the GP, your doctor will ask questions about what is going on and then is likely to examine you. You may then be referred for investigations such as scans or a colonoscopy. If a cancer is found, generally it is surgically removed, and other treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and immunotherapy may be offered.

The bottom line (excuse the pun!) is this, after you poo, turn around, check the toilet bowl and if you are concerned, see your doctor. We mustn’t be embarrassed, everybody poos, and it might just save your life.

If you want to read more about my own journey with cancer, my memoir ‘Doctors Get Cancer Too’ by Dr Philippa Kaye is available online, in bookshops and supermarkets.