Beating bowel cancer together

Symptoms of bowel cancer

Knowing the symptoms is important to help spot bowel cancer early. The earlier that it’s found, the more treatable it’s likely to be.

Bowel cancer is cancer that begins in the large bowel, which is made up of the colon and rectum. It’s sometimes called colorectal cancer.

On this page we’ll give you information on what the symptoms can look like and when to visit your GP if you think you have symptoms.

Watch the video above to hear Dr Anisha Patel talk about the symptoms of bowel cancer.

What are the symptoms of bowel cancer?

Bowel cancer can affect anyone, whatever your age, gender, ethnicity or where you live.

Symptoms can include:

  • bleeding from your bottom
  • blood in your poo
  • a change in your pooing habits. You might be going more or less often, or have diarrhoea or constipation that might come and go
  • losing weight but you’re not sure why
  • feeling very tired all the time but you’re not sure why
  • a pain or lump in your tummy

Having these symptoms doesn’t always mean you have bowel cancer, but it’s still important to find out what’s causing them.

Download our symptoms poster

A poster showing the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer. They are listed as bleeding from your bottom, blood in your poo, a change in how often you poo, or regularly having diarrhoea or constipation, losing weight but you're not really sure why, feeling very tired all the time but you're not really sure why, and a pain or lump in your tummy.

What should I do if I have symptoms of bowel cancer?

If you have any of these symptoms, or if you’re worried about any changes that you notice, visit your GP and ask about an at-home test. It’s important to know that not everyone will have all the symptoms of bowel cancer, or they may get different symptoms at different times. Even if you have just one symptom, your GP will want to see you.

What is the at-home test?

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Your GP can give you a poo test kit, called a faecal immunochemical test (FIT), to do at home. You’ll collect a small amount of poo. This is sent to a lab where they will test for blood in your poo. The result of this test will tell your GP whether you need further tests.

More information on doing an at-home test is available on our testing page.

We know that talking about poo and going to the toilet can be embarrassing, but your GP will understand and will be used to talking about these things. Seeing your GP as soon as you can when you have symptoms can help to diagnose bowel cancer early. The earlier that bowel cancer is diagnosed, the more treatable it’s likely to be.


Keeping a note of your symptoms can help you to explain what you’re experiencing at your GP appointment. This will help your GP to decide what tests to do. Our symptoms diary makes it easy to track your symptoms and record any other information before you speak to your GP.  

Download our symptoms diary

More about bowel cancer symptoms

Bleeding from your bottom or blood in your poo

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There are several things that can cause bleeding from your bottom or blood in your poo. Bright red blood may come from swollen blood vessels (haemorrhoids or piles) in your back passage, or non-cancerous growths (polyps). It may also be caused by bowel cancer. Dark red or black blood may come from your bowel or stomach. Tell your GP about any bleeding so they can find out what’s causing it.

Changes in your pooing habit

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Tell your GP if you have noticed any changes in how often you’re pooing. You may be going more or less often. You may have loose runny poo (diarrhoea) and you may need to go to the toilet more often than normal. Or your poo might be hard, dry, and difficult to pass (constipation). If you have constipation, you may find it painful when you go to the toilet, or you may feel like there is still poo that you haven’t been able to pass.

There is no rule for how often you should be going to the toilet. The important thing is to know what is normal for you, and to let your GP know if you notice any changes.

Losing weight

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Speak to your GP if you have lost weight and you don't know why. You may not feel like eating if you feel sick, bloated or if you just don't feel hungry.

Tiredness

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If you are feeling very tired all the time (fatigue) but don’t know why, it is important to speak with your GP so they can help you find the cause. This tiredness may be caused by a lack of healthy red blood cells in the body, known as anaemia. If you have anaemia, you are likely to feel very tired and your skin may look pale.

Pain or lump in your tummy

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You may have pain or a lump in your tummy (abdomen). If the pain or lump doesn’t go away or affects how you sleep or eat, speak to your GP.

It’s important to know what feels normal for you, as not everyone will experience the same symptoms, or they may have different symptoms at different times. If things don’t feel right or you notice a change in what’s normal for you, visit you GP as soon as you can.

Sometimes, a tumour can block the bowel. This can cause sudden and strong pains in the stomach area, bloating and make you feel or be sick. This is called a bowel obstruction. You may also be unable to poo or pass wind.

If you think you have a bowel obstruction, are in a lot of pain, or feeling very unwell, call NHS 111 for advice or go to a hospital accident and emergency department.

What causes bowel cancer?

We don't know what causes most bowel cancers, but we do know that some things can increase your risk of getting the disease. If you have a close family history of bowel cancer or want to find out ways to reduce your risk of developing the disease, more information is available on our risk factors page.

If you have any of the symptoms described above, or if you’re worried about any changes that you notice, contact your GP and ask about an at-home test.

Find out more about talking to your GP

Find out more about diagnosing bowel cancer

Find out more about at-home tests

Page reviewed: March 2024

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