The cancer symptoms Deborah James wanted everyone check for

·5 min read
Dame Deborah James raised more than £6 million for Cancer Research UK (Ken McKay/ITV/Shutterstock)
Dame Deborah James raised more than £6 million for Cancer Research UK (Ken McKay/ITV/Shutterstock)

Dame Deborah James has died aged 40 after a six-year battle with bowel cancer.

The cancer campaigner, who was awarded a damehood in May for her tireless efforts in raising awareness of the disease, passed away peacefully at her family home on Tuesday 28 June.

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, with nearly 43,000 people diagnosed with the disease every year in the country.

It is also the second biggest cancer killer, according to Bowel Cancer UK, behind only lung cancer. Bowel cancer claims the lives of more than 16,500 Britons a year, equivalent to 45 people each day.

The charity, whose patrons include actors Tom Hardy and Rupert Evans, says that while bowel cancer is more common in people over the age of 50, it can affect people of all ages, with more than 2,600 people under 50 diagnosed with is in the UK every year.

James, who was diagnosed with Stage Four bowel cancer in 2016 at the age of 35, revealed in May that she had moved to in-home hospice care.

James raised more than £6 million through her Bowelbabe fund for Cancer Research UK, Bowel Cancer UK and the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, far surpassing her initial target of £250,000.

Other famous faces who openly share their journeys with bowel cancer include BBC Radio 1 presenter Adele Roberts.

In May, Roberts appeared on the cover of Women’s Health magazine with her stoma bag also pictured. She recently revealed she is cancer free after her “shock” diagnosis in October last year.

James, Roberts, and other cancer campaigners speak out about their symptoms and treatments to raise awareness on how others can identify the signs of bowel cancer and seek medical advice as early as possible.

So what are the symptoms of bowel cancer and how can it be treated? Here's everything you need to know:

What is bowel cancer?

Bowel cancer, otherwise known as colorectal cancer, affects the large bowel, Bowel Cancer UK states.

The large bowel, also known as the large intestine, is made up of your colon and rectum.

When the cells in the body begin to divide and multiply in an uncontrolled manner, this leads to the development of cancer, Cancer Research UK explains.

While bowel cancer is more likely to develop in the large bowel than the small bowel, small bowel cancer can still occur.

The small bowel contains the duodenum, the part of the intestine which connects to the stomach, and the ileum, the part of the intestine which connects to the large bowel.

When cells have become cancerous in the large bowel, they may spread to other areas of the body, such as the liver or lungs. This is called advanced bowel cancer.

What are the symptoms of bowel cancer?

Symptoms of bowel cancer can include a change in your bowel habits, ​blood in stool, weight loss, pain in your abdomen or back, fatigue and feeling as though you need to strain your back package, even after going to the toilet, Cancer Research UK outlines.

Another potential symptom of bowel cancer includes tenesmus, which is the feeling of having to defecate without having stools, or experiencing pain upon defecation.

Cancer may also cause bowel obstruction, which is when passing stool or gas is either harder than usual or impossible.

When bowel obstruction occurs, you may experience cramping, bloating, constipation or nausea.

It's advised that you see your doctor or go to A&E immediately if you think you may have a bowel obstruction.

The NHS adds that experiencing symptoms associated with bowel cancer, such as abdominal discomfort and constipation, may not necessarily be indicative of bowel cancer.

Signs of bowel cancer in women tend to be the same as those seen in men. In its early stages, the disease may have no noticeable symptoms, according to Healthline.

For more information on symptoms of bowel cancer, visit the NHS here and Cancer Research UK here.

How many people does bowel cancer affect?

Around 42,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year, Bowel Cancer UK states.

This equates to around 115 new cases of bowel cancer every day.

The majority of cases, more than nine in 10, occur in people over the age of 50, with around six in 10 occurring in people over the age of 70.

However, bowel cancer can affect individuals at any age.

Men are more likely than women to be diagnosed with bowel cancer.

One in 15 men are likely to be diagnosed with bowel cancer in their lifetimes, in comparison to one in 18 women.

How is bowel cancer tested?

When being tested for bowel cancer, your GP will ask whether you have a history of bowel cancer in the your family, the NHS explains.

They will then likely conduct a rectal examination, which involves a doctor or nurse placing a gloved finger inside your rectum to check for any lumps.

Your blood will also be tested for iron deficiency, as those with bowel cancer may have a lack of iron in their blood due to bleeding.

If the tests indicate that you may have bowel cancer, you'll then be referred to a hospital to undergo a flexible sigmoidoscopy.

During a flexible sigmoidoscopy, a long, thin tube called a sigmoidoscope with a camera and light attached will be inserted into your rectum and into the lower part of your large bowel.

You may also undergo a colonoscopy, which is similar to a flexible sigmoidoscopy but examines the entire large bowel.

Another form of test used to diagnose bowel cancer is a computed tomography (CT) colonography, which uses CT scans to examine the colon and rectum.

How can bowel cancer be treated?

The measures used to treat bowel cancer may vary depending on which part of the bowel is affected.

The most common form of treatment for bowel cancer is surgery, the NHS outlines.

This may be paired with chemotherapy, radiotherapy or biological treatments.

If bowel cancer is detected at an early stage, it may be cured completely.

However, if the cancerous tumour cannot be removed completely through surgery, then a cure may not be possible, the NHS states.

For more information about treatment for bowel cancer, visit the NHS here and Cancer Research UK here.

To speak to a Cancer Research UK nurse, you can call 0808 800 4040. The helpline is free and open from Monday to Friday, from 9am until 5pm.