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Short of a cure, the greatest weapon in the fight against cancer is early detection. While there is much more work to be done in regards to the former, strides have been made in the latter. Research continues to shed light on the most prevalent signs of cancer among the population.
One of the largest studies to date was published in the journal Family Practice.
Researchers sought to determine the prevalence of specific and non-specific symptom experiences indicative of colorectal cancer, also known as bowel cancer.
Researchers drew on data from a nationwide cohort study of 100,000 people randomly selected from the general Danish population.
All Danish citizens are registered in the Danish Civil Registration System (CRS) with a unique personal identification number. From the CRS, 100,000 adults aged 20 years or older were randomly selected and invited to participate in a survey.
A comprehensive questionnaire concerning experience of specific and non-specific cancer alarm symptoms, general, frequent symptoms, abdominal symptom conditions and bodily distress syndrome was undertaken.
So, what did the researchers find out?
Abdominal pain was the most “common specific alarm symptom”, making up 19.7 percent of the responses.
Tiredness was the most common non-specific symptom, accounting for almost 50 percent of all responses.
The experiences of symptoms were more common among women and more common in the youngest age groups for both sexes.
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The symptom leading to the highest proportion of GP contacts was rectal bleeding (33.8 percent).
When experiencing any combination of two specific alarm symptoms, the proportion who contacted a GP was less than 50 percent.
The combination of a non-specific and a specific alarm symptom gave rise to the highest proportion of GP contacts.
The findings led the researchers to conclude: “Although specific and non-specific alarm symptoms of colorectal cancer are common in the general population, the proportion of GP contacts is low.”
How to respond to bowel cancer symptoms
According to the NHS, you should see a GP if you have any of the symptoms of bowel cancer for three weeks or more.
“When you first see a GP, they’ll ask about your symptoms and whether you have a family history of bowel cancer,” explains the health body.
As it explains, 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).
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 important to note that having one or more risk factors doesn’t mean that you will definitely get bowel cancer.
According to Cancer Research UK, bowel cancer is associated with the following risk factors:
- Eating too much red and processed meat
- Being overweight obese
- Smoking tobacco
- Older age
- Family history.
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