IT CAN be unpleasant, it involves the bowels - typically a part of the body we dismiss and certainly NOT something we talk about.
But, the reality is you must listen to your insides, for being in tune with your intestines could save your life.
Bowel cancer, also known as colon cancer or colorectal cancer, is the fourth most common form of the disease in the UK, after breast, prostate and lung cancers.
More than 41,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with the disease each year, according to Bowel Cancer UK.
And a recent study has warned around one in five bowel cancer patients told they have the disease in A&E, have suffered some of the "red flag" symptoms at least a year before their diagnosis.
Experts have warned doctors are therefore missing key opportunities to diagnose patients with bowel cancer - opportunities that could mean the difference between life and death.
Former football stars David Beckham and Rio Ferdinand have joined forces with Cancer Research UK to raise awareness of bowel cancer.
They join in support of the Bobby Moore Fund and their Moore To Know campaign which raises money for pioneering and potentially life-saving bowel cancer research.
What do the experts say about bowel cancer?
Reacting to the new findings Cristina Renzi, a Cancer Research UK scientists at University College London said: “We know that patients diagnosed with cancer after emergency presentations don’t do as well as patients who are diagnosed by their doctor through non-emergency routes.
“This study shows that most patients – who are picked up through the emergency route – can be harder to diagnose as they often don’t show typical bowel cancer symptoms.
Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is the fourth most common form of the disease in the UK, after breast, prostate and lung cancers
“However, in most cases they visit their doctor for various reasons multiple times during the months leading up to their diagnosis, which could represent opportunities to diagnose the cancer earlier.
“It’s important to find ways to ensure these patients can be diagnosed at an early stage."
So, what are the signs and symptoms that we should look out for? And, who is most at risk of being diagnosed with bowel cancer?
How common is bowel cancer?
As already stated, this form of cancer is the fourth most common in the UK, behind breast, prostate and lung cancers.
There are around 290,000 people living with the disease, and approximately 41,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.
More than nine in 10 new cases (94 per cent) are diagnosed in people over the age of 50, and nearly six in every 10 cases are diagnosed in people over the age of 70.
But, experts warn bowel cancer can affect anyone, regardless of their age.
More than 2,400 new cases are diagnosed in people under 50 each year.
One in 14 men and one in 19 women will develop bowel cancer in their lifetimes.
What are the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer?
The symptoms of bowel cancer include:
- bleeding from the back passage, or blood in your poo
- a change in your normal toilet habits - going more frequently for example
- a lump in your back passage or abdomen - commonly felt on the right hand side
- a feeling of needing to strain in your back passage - as if you need to pass a bowel motion - even after opening your bowels
- losing weight
- pain in your abdomen
- a lower than normal level of red blood cells - also known as anaemia
Tumours in the bowel typically bleed, which can cause a shortage of red blood cells, known as anaemia. It can cause tiredness and sometimes breathlessness.
In some cases bowel cancer can block the bowel, this is known as a bowel obstruction.
The symptoms include:
- gripping pains in the abdomen
- feeling bloated
- constipation and being unable to pass wind
- being sick
While these are all signs to watch out for, experts warn the most serious of all is noticing blood in your stools.
The difficulty for doctors comes because all these symptoms can be signs of illnesses that are far less serious.
As a result, the disease can be harder to detect than other forms of cancer.
In January 2018 BBC newsreader George Alagiah revealed he was once again battling bowel cancer after four years in remission.
The 62-year-old said: "My brilliant doctors are determined to get me back to a disease-free state and I know they have the skill to do just that.
"I learned last time around how important the support of family and friends is and I am blessed in that department.
"I genuinely feel positive as I prepare for this new challenge."
George is facing Stage IV cancer which means that the cancerous cells have spread to distant organs and tissues.
In most cases Chemo is offered to treat this rather than surgery.
A change in toilet habits, and noticing blood in your poo are both important signs to watch out for
What are the risk factors of bowel cancer?
Scientists do not know the cause of most forms of bowel cancer, but they do know a series of factors that can increase a person's risk of the disease.
Some of these things are just a fact of life - age and genetics for example.
But, others are lifestyle factors that can be changed and improved.
You're at greater risk of bowel cancer if you have one or more of the following risk factors:
- you're aged over 50
- you have a strong family history of the disease - eg. a parent, sibling or child diagnosed with bowel cancer before the age of 50, or two or more relatives diagnosed at any age or one or more relative with a known genetic condition linked to bowel cancer
- a history of non-cancerous growths, known as polyps, in your bowel
- long-term inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis
- type 2 diabetes
- an unhealthy lifestyle - you smoke, are overweight or obese and do not get enough exercise
Can bowel cancer be treated?
Bowel cancer is treatable and can be cured, particularly if it is diagnosed early enough.
Some also turn to alternative treatments - including one man who is following research that suggested human breast milk may help kill off cancerous cells.
More than nine out of 10 people with stage 1 bowel cancer - the least serious form - survive five years or longer after they are diagnosed.
However, this survival rate does drop significantly the longer a person has the disease before diagnosis.
The number of people dying from bowel cancer each year has been falling since the 1970s.
Around 15,903 people die from the disease in the UK each year - making it the most common cause of death from cancer in the country after lung cancer.