Four 'Warning Signals' of Bowel Cancer That Appear 'Up to Two Years' Before Diagnosis

Written by Henrik Rothen

Dec.21 - 2023 12:58 PM CET

Four 'Warning Signals' of Bowel Cancer That Appear 'Up to Two Years' Before Diagnosis.

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Researchers have discovered that patients with early-stage bowel cancer are likely to exhibit four symptoms between three months and two years before diagnosis.

A new study has identified four "warning" symptoms of bowel cancer in patients under 50 years old, months before diagnosis. Colorectal cancer, or cancer of the colon and rectum, is the third most common.

Bowel cancer accounts for about 11% of all new cancer cases. Some cases are considered preventable. Although there are many symptoms to watch for, new research has found key warning signs that could indicate an increased risk of early bowel cancer - that is, occurring before the age of 50. Researchers said patients were likely to exhibit four symptoms between three months and two years before diagnosis.

It was determined that the presence of a single symptom nearly doubled the risk of bowel cancer. Those with two symptoms were more than 3.5 times more at risk; and having three or more symptoms increased the risk by more than 6.5 times.

These "warning" symptoms are:

  • Abdominal pain

  • Rectal bleeding

  • Diarrhea

  • Iron deficiency anemia

Researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis believe these warning signs could help with earlier detection and diagnosis in young adults. The study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, analyzed data from more than 5,000 patients with early-stage bowel cancer.

Yin Cao, head of the study, explains: "Colorectal cancer is not simply a disease that affects the elderly; we want young adults to be aware of these potentially very revealing signs and symptoms and act accordingly - especially since people under 50 are considered to be at low risk and do not benefit from systematic colorectal cancer screening. It is also essential to raise awareness among general practitioners, gastroenterologists, and emergency physicians. To date, many early colorectal cancers are detected in emergency rooms, and there are often significant diagnostic delays with this cancer."

Bowel cancer screening in France is currently offered to people aged 50 to 74 every two years. Dr. Cao added that two symptoms in particular - rectal bleeding and iron deficiency anemia - required rapid endoscopy and follow-up.

Cassandra Fritz, author of the study, said: "It usually takes about three months to get a diagnosis from the time a person first consults a doctor with one or more of the warning signs and symptoms we have identified. But in this analysis, we found that some young adults had symptoms up to two years before their diagnosis. This could be one of the reasons why many younger patients had more advanced disease at the time of diagnosis than what we usually see in older people who are regularly screened."

Some of the listed symptoms are very common and can be caused by other conditions, so they do not necessarily mean you have bowel cancer - but if they persist, you should still consult a general practitioner.

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