A cancer diagnosis can seem like a death sentence but spotting it early can greatly improve survival outcomes. This is easier said than done, of course. Many symptoms of cancer can easily be confused with less serious conditions. As a result, people often leave it too late to see their doctor.
Writing in the BMJ, one colorectal surgeon drew attention to an everyday item that could be causing many people to overlook a crucial sign of rectal cancer.
Rectal cancer is cancer that begins in the rectum – the last several inches of the large intestine. The term is also used when talking about bowel cancer.
“As a colorectal surgeon, I found the appearance of bright blood seen in the toilet worrying until I studied the toilet paper design,” wrote Colorectal Surgeon Guy F Nash.
He continued: “Rectal cancer often bleeds episodically, but red colouring on toilet paper may delay presentation.
“Manufacturers and the public should be aware of this health risk.”
Other warning signs of rectal cancer include:
- A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhoea, constipation or more-frequent bowel movements
- Narrow stool
- A feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely
- Abdominal pain
- Unexplained weight loss
- Weakness or fatigue.
How to respond
According to the NHS, you should see a GP if you have any of the symptoms of bowel or rectal 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.
“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).
The exact cause of bowel or rectal 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.
“Some genes linked to colorectal cancer increase the risk of developing the disease, but they don’t make it inevitable.”
Many studies have shown that eating lots of red and processed meat increases the risk of bowel cancer.
It is estimated that around 13 out of 100 bowel cancer cases (around 13 percent) 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.
The government recommends that people eating more than 90g of red and processed meat a day should reduce it to 70g or less. 70g is the cooked weight.