Would you know if you were experiencing symptoms suggestive of bowel cancer?
A national study of Australians diagnosed with bowel cancer has revealed 55% of respondents were unaware or unsure of bowel cancer symptoms.
Bowel Cancer Australia is encouraging Australians of all ages to ‘Know the Symptoms’ of bowel cancer, which may include:
• A persistent change in bowel habit
• Blood in the bowel movement or rectal bleeding
• Unexplained tiredness, weakness or weight loss
• Abdominal pain, especially if severe
Anyone experiencing these symptoms for more than two weeks should speak to their GP as soon as possible.
Nobody knows your body better than you, so be aware of any changes and don’t assume bleeding is caused by haemorrhoids.
Even if you have never experienced symptoms suggestive of bowel cancer, if your family has a history of the disease you should see your GP for individual advice about screening.
Know The Symptoms - your photos and stories
Thank you to all of the Bowel Cancer Australia #Never2Young Champions who have joined the ‘faces of young-onset bowel cancer’ and shared their advice with other young adults who might be experiencing symptoms suggestive of bowel cancer.
Angela, diagnosed age 31:
“I remember being tired, a tiredness that could not be described, but I put it down to being back at work and being the mum of a busy toddler. My husband and I had also stopped eating sugar so we were both losing weight. I continued to lose weight, but associated it with poor eating and shift work. I also suffered lower back pain, but this was something I always had problems with and nurses are renowned for back pain, so I thought nothing of it. I am tall and have always played sport so, again associated it with wear and tear. My advice to others is to get checked!! Speak to your GP if you are having any symptoms such as passing blood, extreme tiredness, back pain, weight loss. All these symptoms can be associated with lots of other things, especially being a parent to a toddler, but a simple blood test or a colonoscopy may help catch this hideous disease early, when it is most easily treated!!”
Anna, diagnosed age 29:
“I thought that with two young kids, all my dignity had already been lost and nothing much could gross me out. Yet it was one good, long episode of rectal bleeding that really made me face my squeamishness and uneasiness with discussing bodily functions. The bleeding had stopped by the time I arrived at the hospital. When the doctors asked me, “How much blood, a teaspoon, a tablespoon?” I assured them we were talking about cups, not spoons. I was told “it won’t be anything serious, cancer doesn’t bleed like that.” My piece of advice is if you don’t have a satisfactory explanation for your symptoms don’t let your concerns be brushed off. Use this campaign to remind your doctor that no two cases are ever the same, and nobody is ever too young”.
Catherine diagnosed age 28:
Cathy diagnosed age 48:
“I was chronically tired from working 12-hour shifts and eating poorly. I became increasingly sensitive emotionally as I struggled to get through each day.
Never did I consider I had the symptoms of bowel cancer. My advice is to listen to your body and see your doctor sooner, rather than later. Tell them everything – the bowel habits, your emotional state, your eating plan, your sleeping routine – bowel cancer is so much easier to treat when it’s found earlier. Know what your ‘normal’ is and take notice when that changes!"
Geoff, diagnosed age 33:
“I had been experiencing a variety of symptoms in the months leading up to my diagnosis, but the main one was rectal bleeding. Unfortunately for me, those symptoms disappeared for a time, before returning and then disappearing, and could always be put down to something else. I also felt tired and noticed that I had lost some weight and a blood test revealed that my iron levels were extremely low.
My advice to others is to listen to your body. If something doesn’t seem right and persists for more than two week, get it checked. Don’t let embarrassment cost you your life.”
Mallory, diagnosed age 29
“I’d been experiencing a range of odd symptoms for twelve months and decided to see my GP after not being able to kick a simple cold. I was prescribed antibiotics and sent for iron studies. I experienced anaemia, a change in bowel habits, blood in stools and abdominal pain. I would say to anyone experiencing any symptoms, do not ignore them. Early detection can be the difference between life and death. Don’t be embarrassed to consult your doctor and remember you’re never too young for bowel cancer”.
Craig, diagnosed age 36:
“I started to experience abdominal pain, which I initially put down to soreness from the gym. After persisting for a week or two I decided I should see my GP to investigate further. I had no other symptoms except for the pain. I never experienced some of the common symptoms that most people associate with bowel cancer and I have no family history either. My advice to anyone experiencing similar symptoms is to be very persistent with your doctor, get all the tests they ask but request to have a colonoscopy. When they say you’re too young, point them in the direction of the Bowel Cancer Australia website and show them our stories.”
Lesley, diagnosed age 37:
“My advice is Listen to your body. Overnight I went from being extremely active to fatigued. I knew something was wrong. My husband kept telling me that I was doing too much. He was right as I was working full time, I managed my sons soccer team, I was the secretary of the P&C and I ran our household. BUT I was doing this for years. I couldn’t understand why all of a sudden I was fatigued. No one including my GP ever suspected I had bowel cancer. December 2016 my husband had some bleeding from his back passage. This was not uncommon for him, but this time after everything I had gone through, he thought he should go and see our GP. Our GP scheduled some urgent tests and within 48 hours my husband was diagnosed with early stages of bowel cancer. As there is a history of bowel cancer in my husbands family, my mother inlaw booked in for a colonoscopy just to be on the safe side. When she woke up she was told she had early stages of bowel cancer. I like to think I was responsible for saving 2 people, people I love dearly"
Callum, diagnosed age 22:
“I have always been a fit and healthy person, but at the start of the year I noticed I was getting sick a lot and felt extremely tired. By April, I was feeling even more tired so I went to the doctors and got blood tests done. My iron and haemoglobin levels had dropped significantly causing anaemia and extreme exhaustion. I rapidly lost weight, 12kgs in 8 weeks. I have since been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, clear cell sarcoma of the bowel. My advice to anyone experiencing these symptoms is to see your local GP. Do not ignore these signs. YOU'RE NEVER TO YOUNG!”
Shano, diagnosed age 39:
“My symptoms included blood in my bowel movements, loss of weight, loss of muscle, changes in my bowel movements, and then severe lower back pain. I had two blood tests within six months; neither showed any indication of cancer. It was only after my first colonoscopy that my cancer was discovered. I was then quickly referred to a colon specialist for many further tests. My best advice for anyone with any of the bowel cancer symptoms is to seek professional assistance ASAP, ask for follow ups, do not be worried about doctors poking around in your private areas. Please do not let the fear of living with a stoma stop you from following up, I did and I have suffered severely”.
Sharleen, diagnosed age 35:
“One night I was sitting watching current affairs on TV, when a young 27 year old woman was telling her bowel cancer story. She said seven doctors had dismissed her symptoms over many years, and she was now terminal. I sat and listened to the symptoms: tiredness, changing bowel habits and blood in the stools. Could my symptoms for the last 6 months be bowel cancer? Something worried me so I decided to book an appointment to see my GP. She said it sounded like IBS so I had a colonoscopy. The surgeon came out and said, "Don't worry your too young for cancer!" Famous last words I will always remember. My one piece of advice - never stop listening to your body, if it’s giving you signs something is not right, get it checked it can save your life!”
Talya, diagnosed age 21:
“I was extremely anaemic and required weekly infusions over 12-weeks leading up to my wedding. A bowel screen detected blood in my stool. My dad was diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer, caused by Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP). His doctors urged him to make sure I got the help I needed. My doctors presumed based on the age of my dad at his time of diagnosis, that I too wouldn’t need to worry about cancer forming until much later. I was encouraged to live the life I wanted before needing surgery. Later that year I had extreme abdominal pain and underwent a colonoscopy & gastroscopy to rule anything out. He told me that my bowel was in early stages of bowel cancer and that I had to make the decision regarding my options going forward including surgery. I get excited each year for the N2Y campaign and bowel cancer awareness; it is something I am passionate about sharing in the hopes it empowers someone else to make a better decision about their health.”
Tamara, diagnosed age 41:
“I had a couple of bouts of abdominal pain. Being a healthy person at the time I didn’t think too much of it and put it down to dodgy or too much food! When the pain I was experiencing reached 10 out of 10, my GP took things seriously and I was sent for scans. They showed a tumour which had caused a bowel obstruction. Listen to your body...when things aren’t right, you’ll know better than anyone. Age is irrelevant!”
Sarah, diagnosed age 33:
“For about 18 months before my diagnosis, I’d explained away bloating, occasional sharps pains in my abdomen and an increased irregularity in bowel habits, as gluten intolerance, IBS and being a tired new mum who drank too much coffee. Stupidly, I also ignored blood on the toilet paper putting that down to post labour haemorrhoids. I wish I hadn’t ignored my body and all the warning signs that something wasn’t right. Don’t be like me – don’t self-diagnose. Speak to your doctor, just to be sure. Don’t risk leaving any symptoms unchecked”.
Sarah, diagnosed age 41
“I was often very tired, weak and had lost weight, which I attributed to a lack of appetite due to erratic abdominal pain. When I began experiencing an inconsistency in bowel habits, I saw my GP and they thought I had a stomach bug. Despite treatment, my symptoms persisted and after more GP visits, a full round of tests were undertaken, resulting in a trip to the ER for an iron infusion. A Gastroenterologist booked me in for a colonoscopy and discovered a 6 cm tumour and hundreds of polyps in my colon. I was told I had cancer - a huge shock given my age, relative health and no family history. My advice to others is to listen to your body and seek medical advice when something doesn’t feel right.”
Sherie diagnosed age 31
"June is Bowel Cancer Awareness month & this week is young survivors week. By sharing our symptoms we're not only trying to help save lives by encouraging others to get themselves checked out, but also helping to break down the stigma & let people know it's ok to talk about it. For me, abdominal pain & bloating were my biggest alarm bells!"
Nicole diagnosed age 32
"Did I know I was tired and losing weight? Yep. Did I know unexplained tiredness, weakness and weight loss are symptoms of bowel cancer? Nope. Nope, nope, nope. It's Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, which means it's time to #knowyoursymptoms lovely people! And remember that we are NEVER too young for bowel cancer"
Matt diagnosed age 34
"I was diagnosed at 34 with stage 3b bowel cancer, just months after representing Australia as a Touch Football Referee. I had been speaking to a specialist about hemorrhoids, all evidence pointed there. I pushed for a colonoscopy to be done as a few years earlier my brother had a tumor removed from his bowel. That decision to follow through with tests saved my life. Don't ignore the symptoms! Any doubt just get tested, it's better than the alternative."
Donna diagnosed age 43
"In February 2014 I visited my local GP to seek advice for severe abdominal pain that I had been living with for close to a year. I had ignored the symptoms and just carried on until the pain became too much to bear. After many tests, including CT scans, Ultrasounds and blood tests, my Doctor recommended a colonoscopy which detected a large and advanced tumour. Within a week of having a colonoscopy I was scheduled for urgent surgery. At 43 years of age, and a busy Mother of 4 sons, I was diagnosed with a T4 Bowel cancer. Today I am blessed to be leading a healthy life."
Megan, diagnosed age 37
“I had bleeding. Boy, am I thankful now for the bleeding. It became more frequent over 6 weeks, and after seeing the GP and receiving a positive result on my FOB test, I was given a referral for a colonoscopy in a private hospital. I was lucky that I did not have to push hard to get my symptoms investigated, butut many bowel cancer patients have had a hard battle just to get to diagnosis. That’s why I have no trouble sharing my story [because] if you don't talk about these things you cannot educate people and education is the key. Not just for the general public, but for health professionals too.”
Sherryn, diagnosed age 34:
“The only warning sign I had was vomiting, everything else was fine! I had no idea about bowel cancer. Screening doesn't even get talked about until you hit 50! If I hadn’t been sick and received a colonoscopy, I may not have made it to 50. I really think we need to get the word out that bowel cancer is NOT an "older person’s" disease and make everyone take note!! If something doesn't feel right then please get it checked straight away, don't hesitate and don't just leave it!”
Scott, diagnosed age 35:
I feel lucky that even though my doctor said she didn't think that I would have bowel cancer due to my age, she made sure that within seven days of my appointment with her I'd had a blood test, CT scan and a colonoscopy. As a result, I was diagnosed with rectal cancer and started chemo and radiation soon after followed by surgery to remove the cancer and surrounding lymph nodes. Living with a colostomy bag wasn't fun but thankfully after six months I was able to have it reversed. I listened to my body when the tiredness kicked in and my bowel movements became more frequent, painful and sometimes had blood in them, and I'm so glad I did. Listen to your body and don't be embarrassed about seeing a doctor, it may just save your life!
Neva, diagnosed age 43:
My name is Neva and I was diagnosed with Bowel Cancer at the age of 43. I had no symptoms - none what so ever! I had a routine colonoscopy due to family history and given my age - precaution is the key right!?! I am still hear and a very lucky girl at that with a loving husband and 2 beautiful young children and working full time. My bowels will never be the same therefore my diet has changed considerably due to invasive surgery. I must acknowledge thought it has NOT been easy - it's been a very rough and tough road and continues to do so....The rest and recovery is history. I now believe a colonoscopy should be routine check just like a pap smear and mammogram - you just never ever know!!
A very big thank you to all our Never2Young Champions!
Thank you for sharing your 'Know the Symptoms' photos and stories - helping to raise much needed awareness that you're never too young to have bowel cancer and offering invaluable support to other young people as they go through their own bowel cancer journey.
Have your own story to share? Register to become a #Never2Young Champion here.