Bowel cancer symptoms: How many times do you poo a day? How often can be worrying

Dr Hilary Jones discusses bowel cancer awareness acronym

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Bowel cancer is a general term for cancer that begins in the large bowel – a part of the digestive system that includes the colon and rectum. When cancerous cells start multiplying in this region, digestive processes can be disrupted. The result is often a change to one’s bowel habits.

Constipation and infrequent bowel movement have long been suggested to be risk factors for bowel cancer.

A study published in the journal Elsevier suggests a greater frequency of bowel movements also increases your risk of the deadly disease.

To investigate the association, researchers drew on data from the EPIC-Norfolk study.

This is an ongoing prospective study of 25,663 men and women aged between 45 and 79 years who are residing in Norfolk, United Kingdom, and are recruited from general practice registers.

Three categories were devised to assess bowel movement frequency: less than four to five stools per week, seven stools per week and more than two to three stools per day.

After conducting their analysis, the researchers found having more than two to three stools per day was associated with a significantly increased risk of bowel cancer when compared with having one stool per day.

Less frequent bowel movement showed a decreased risk, they found.

What’s more, having loose stools in comparison with soft stools was associated with an approximately three-fold increased risk.

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How to respond

The NHS explains: “See a GP if you have any of the symptoms of bowel cancer for three weeks or more.”

According to the health body, when you first see a GP, they’ll ask about your symptoms and whether you have a family history of bowel cancer.

“They’ll usually carry out a simple examination of your bottom, known as a digital rectal examination (DRE), and examine your tummy (abdomen).”

This is a useful way of checking whether there are any lumps in your tummy or bottom (rectum).

Am I at risk?

The exact cause of bowel cancer is unknown. However, research has shown several factors may make you more likely to develop it.

Your risk of developing bowel cancer depends on many things including age, genetics and lifestyle factors.

Having one or more risk factors doesn’t mean that you will definitely get bowel cancer.

In addition to raising heart disease risk, kany studies have shown that eating lots of red and processed meat increases the risk of bowel cancer.

It is estimated that around 13 out of 100 bowel cancer cases in the UK are linked to eating these meats, reports Cancer Research UK.

Processed meat is any meat that has been treated to preserve it and/or add flavour – for example, bacon, salami, sausages, canned meat, or chicken nuggets.

The government recommends that people eating more than 90g of red and processed meat a day should reduce it to 70g or less.

Other risk factors include:

  • Being overweight and obese
  • Physical activity
  • Smoking tobacco
  • Alcohol
  • Age
  • Family history.

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