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Health Chatter: Reducing your risk of bowel cancer

Updated: Mar 7, 2022

Cancer occurs when abnormal cells start to divide and grow in an uncontrolled way. The cells can grow into the surrounding areas and may spread to other areas of the body, particularly if not caught early.

Bowel cancer is cancer that starts in the large bowel (colon) or back passage (rectum). It is also known as colorectal cancer.

Who is at risk? Evidence suggests that a higher risk of bowel cancer is linked to:

  • Family history – if your mother or father, brother or sister has had bowel cancer.

  • Age – most cases occur in people aged 60 or over

Screening is available for people that meet these criteria, so talk to your GP about regular health checks.

Reducing your risk There are other factors that increase the likelihood of bowel cancer, but the risk can be reduced by modifying your lifestyle.


  • Eat less red (beef, lamb, pork) or processed meats (bacon, salami, sausages, canned meat, or chicken nuggets).

  • Swap red meat for chicken, fish, beans or pulses (lentils, chickpeas).

  • Boost your fibre intake.


  • Swapping to brown rice, pasta or bread

  • Swapping your snack to low calorie popcorn rather than crisps

  • Choosing wholegrain breakfast cereals

  • Eating more fruit and vegetables

  • Maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly.

Alcohol Drink less alcohol, particularly if you tend to exceed these recommended levels of consumption:

  • Men and women are advised not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis ( = 6 pints of average-strength beer or 10 small glasses of low-strength wine).

Spread your drinking over 3 or more days if you regularly drink as much as 14 units a week and if you want to cut down, try to have several drink-free days each week.

Smoking Stop smoking. The more you smoke the greater the risk. Bowel cancer is the 4th most common cancer in the UK, but early diagnosis is often missed when symptoms are ignored because people are too shy to talk about them. What should I look out for? The 3 main symptoms of bowel cancer are a persistent:

  • change in your bowel habit – e.g. having to poo more, it becomes runnier, you are regularly constipated, or you feel a need to strain to empty your bowels even after pooing.

  • blood in your poo – if there is no obvious reason (e.g. piles) or it is associated with the change in bowel habit

  • lower abdominal (tummy) pain, bloating or discomfort – that's always caused by eating.

Other signs to look out for:

  • Your appetite becomes poor

  • You lose significant weight unintentionally

  • You feel abnormally tired

  • You become breathless

If you have had 1 or more of these symptoms of bowel cancer for 4 weeks or more, then consult your doctor.

Things to tell your doctor about:

  • Your symptoms, when they started, how often you have them and if anything seems to trigger them

  • Anything that makes them worse or better, whatever this might be

  • Any family history of cancer

Don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask the doctor to explain things you don’t understand. Take someone with you for support if you feel worried.....but go! Our sources and for more information:


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Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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