The silent symptoms of bowel cancer
Bowel cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women in Australia and is more common in people over the age of 50. Rectal bleeding is the most obvious symptom of bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, but other signs may be far more subtle. If you notice any of the following signs, talk to your doctor.
You learn you’re anaemic
A diagnosis of anaemia may be the first sign that you’re bleeding internally, even if you haven’t seen any other bowel cancer symptoms. “If a woman is menstruating, anaemia is less likely to be followed up with additional tests to see if it could be something else, like bowel cancer,” says cancer specialist Dr Randall Holcombe. “If a man is anaemic, you assume he’s bleeding from somewhere.” It’s not uncommon for people to bleed internally for up to six months before anything shows up in the stool, says Dr Patricia Raymond, a university fellow in Gastroenterology. If you experience any signs of anaemia, such as fatigue, skin pallor or dizziness, see a doctor, as they can also be bowel cancer symptoms.
You can’t catch your breath
Another side effect of a slow internal bleed is shortness of breath. If you aren’t bleeding aggressively or vomiting blood, your body puts more plasma in the blood without making more iron or red blood cells, says Dr Raymond. This prevents you from losing blood in large volumes but reduces your blood’s ability to carry oxygen, which is why you might be short of breath – one of the overlooked bowel cancer symptoms.