Dame Deborah James dies from bowel cancer age 40

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Bowel cancer is woefully overlooked in the UK, owing in part to the perceived embarrassment of talking openly about bowel changes – the hallmark sign of the disease. The late Dame Deborah James, host of the popular cancer podcast You, Me and the Big C, did much to bust the taboo around poo and her legacy lives on through the open dialogue she has created. There are many abnormal bowel changes that can signal the potentially deadly disease.

According to the American Cancer Society, one telltale sign is a “feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that’s not relieved by having one”.

The health body also says any change in bowel habits, such as “diarrhoea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool, that lasts for more than a few days” should also be investigated.

Other signs to spot include:

  • Rectal bleeding with bright red blood
  • Blood in the stool, which might make the stool look dark brown or black
  • Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Unintended weight loss.

It’s important to note that most people with these symptoms do not have bowel cancer. Other health problems can cause similar symptoms.

Nonetheless, you should see a GP If you have any of the symptoms of bowel cancer for three weeks or more, advises the NHS.

The health body continues: “When you first see a GP, they’ll ask about your symptoms and whether you have a family history of bowel cancer.

“They’ll usually carry out a simple examination of your bottom, known as a digital rectal examination (DRE), and examine your tummy (abdomen).”

This is a useful way of checking whether there are any lumps in your tummy or bottom (rectum).

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Are you at risk?

The exact cause of bowel cancer is unknown. However, research has shown several factors may make you more likely to develop it.

Your risk of developing bowel (colon and rectal) cancer depends on many things including age, genetics and lifestyle factors.

It’s worth noting that having one or more risk factors doesn’t mean that you will definitely get bowel cancer.

Some risk factors can be modified and others cannot. Diet forms into the former camp.

Many studies have shown that eating lots of red and processed meat increases the risk of bowel cancer.

According to Cancer Research UK, It’s estimated that around 13 out of 100 bowel cancer cases (around 13 percent) in the UK are linked to eating these meats.

The Government recommends that people eating more than 90g of red and processed meat a day should reduce it to 70g or less.

According to Cancer Research UK, a linked risk factor is obesity, which means being very overweight with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher.

BMI is the most widely used method to check if you’re a healthy weight for your height.

Try to keep a healthy weight by being physically active and eating a healthy, balanced diet.

There is strong evidence which shows that people who are more physically active also have a lower risk of bowel cancer.

Other modifiable risk factors include:

  • Alcohol
  • Smoking tobacco.

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