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Bowel cancer is a general term for cancerous cells that multiply uncontrollably in the large bowel (colon and rectum). If it’s detected early enough, treatment can cure bowel cancer and stop it coming back. Blood in your stools should not be your only concern as there are many other lesser-known signs of bowel cancer including severe fatigue.
Similar to unexplained weight loss, cancer cells can cause fatigue as they use up the body’s energy.
This in turn leaves a person feeling depleted and exhausted no matter how much sleep they are getting.
Sometimes fatigue and bowel cancer go hand in hand due to the internal blood loss from the disease.
The fatigue felt from the disease is thought to affect both physical and mental capabilities.
Extreme tiredness (fatigue) is one of the most common effects of cancer and its treatment, said Bowel Cancer UK.
The health site added: “It can feel completely draining and can affect all areas of your life.
“It’s not unusual for fatigue to last for many months after treatment is over.
“In some people, it may last for a year or two.
“You may be spending longer in bed in the morning, but still have problems sleeping.
“You may have difficulty accomplishing the smallest tasks and find that you’re short of breath doing even light activities.
“Poor concentration or memory loss might also be a problem.”
Diagnosing fatigue as a potential symptom of bowel cancer
In a study published in Clinical Colorectal Cancer it noted: “Fatigue (defined as asthenia, lethargy, and malaise) is graded according to the effect on the patient’s daily living, with grade 4 identified as disabling.
“These different definitions may lead to ambiguity when recognizing cancer-related fatigue, and along with potential cultural influences attributing varying importance to this symptom, patients may continue to be undertreated.
“It must be noted that discussion is still underway regarding the multidimensional nature of fatigue, including how many dimensions may be involved.
“The existence of physical and mental aspects of cancer-related fatigue appears to be generally agreed upon.
“The EAPC has developed an algorithm for the diagnosis of fatigue in cancer patients, which involves initial screening of patients for fatigue in the clinic, where a single question inquiring how the patient feels is asked (eg, ‘Do you feel unusually tired or weak?,’ ‘How weak are you?,’ or ‘How tired are you?’).”
Who are more at risk of bowel cancer?
A person’s risk of developing bowel (colon and rectal) cancer depends on many things including age, genetics and lifestyle factors.
Many studies have shown that eating lots of red and processed meat increases the risk of bowel cancer.
According to Cancer Research UK, it is estimated that around 13 out of 100 bowel cancer cases in the UK are linked to eating these meats.
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. And a portion is about two sausages or three slices of ham.
Spotting the signs
Patrick McIntosh campaigns to raise awareness of the signs of bowel cancer and has raised funds for Bowel Cancer UK.
Mr McIntosh became involved with the charity after his later diagnosis of bowel cancer which he had initially ignored the early warning signs.
He said: “If the anaemia hadn’t been diagnosed when it was – and it was only by chance – who knows what would have happened.
“Looking back, there were other tell-tale signs,’ he added, recalling a change in stool colour (pretty black) and odour, which I discovered can be symptoms of cancer, but I didn’t know at the time.
“Had I known; I would have seen a doctor. But there was no apparent blood, and I felt so well.”
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