If you have been experiencing any bowel cancer symptoms, or received a positive FOBT result, you should make an appointment to see your doctor.
Don’t be embarrassed or scared. Your doctor is used to talking about all sorts of conditions every day and will have heard it all before.
It is better to visit your doctor early and be reassured and treated than to hope symptoms will disappear or get better without treatment. A visit to your doctor could save your life!
The more information you can give to your doctor about your bowel habits, the easier it will be for them to make an accurate diagnosis – so don’t be shy.
Before you go to the GP
Write a symptom diary recording the symptoms you have been experiencing, and for how long. It may also be worth printing this page, considering your answers to the below questions and take it with you to your appointment.
At the doctor’s surgery
Below is a list of routine questions which your doctor should ask to establish a diagnosis for your symptoms.
- Have you had a recent, persistent change in bowel habit to looser, more diarrhoea-like motions, going to the toilet more or trying to go?
- If you haven’t had a change of bowel habit but have bleeding from the bottom, have you any other symptoms like straining, soreness, pain and itchiness? (If the answer to this is yes, it may be that you have piles but it’s still important for you to get this confirmed by your GP).
- Have you got any history of bowel cancer in the family?
- Have you experienced any abdominal pain?
- Have you lost weight or become more tired recently?
Your doctor should also ask you additional questions on:
- your lifestyle and diet (to determine any other possible risk factors)
- your past medical history
- current medications (including pain killers, indigestion remedies, antibiotics and laxatives)
In addition to asking questions about your symptoms, your doctor should undertake a rectal examination which is a painless examination with a gloved finger to feel for any suspicious lumps in the bottom or rectum.
If your doctor does not examine you, you should ask why they have chosen not to.
Your doctor may also choose to undertake a blood test to see if you have anaemia or anything else that may help with a diagnosis.
If your doctor can confidently rule out piles (following a rectal examination) and you are experiencing symptoms, you should be referred to your local hospital for further investigations.
Being referred to the hospital
Most people referred for further investigation will not turn out to have bowel cancer but it should be ruled out by further investigations.
- REMEMBER: However old you are, you should never be told by your doctor that you are too young to have bowel cancer. Whilst bowel cancer is more common in people aged 50+, bowel cancer increasingly affects all age groups.
If you have higher-risk symptoms, do not accept 'you're too young to have bowel cancer' as an explanation for your symptoms - ask your doctor to be referred for further investigations.