Now, all of that said, what better way to start off our “unlocked” status than promoting Bowel Cancer Awareness Month. This means be aware of your bowel habits and do something about it if things are changing. You may think that it is obvious, but our hospital team see hundreds of people a year with a new diagnosis of bowel cancer, who have either ignored their symptoms or been too frightened to do anything about it because they worry about a cancer diagnosis, or they do not want to undergo the tests. Bowel cancer is one of the more curable cancers if caught early enough. Therein lies the importance of one tiny word “if”, because, “if ” you do something about it, “if” you go through the test/s and “if” you work with your specialist team whose aim is to get the best possible outcome for you. So our simple message is, be aware of your bowels and “if” things change, do something about it. Now, another thing that people often say is “ I saw my GP and they advised.... but it didn’t work, and here I am”. Many people are asked, “Did you go back to the GP when it didn’t work?” And many times, the answer is “no”. If you are concerned, please do something about it, and that includes raising your concerns with your GP. To see/ deal with the ever growing population of this country, health care workers need you to be clear about what the problem is and what your concerns are; making a list often helps because we can all get a bit sidetracked or lost in a conversation that talks about something that may embarrass you. Be clear about your symptoms, the duration of the symptoms and your concerns. There are many bowel disorders that mimic bowel cancer, so raising the problem is the first step towards determining what the problem is.
One of the many things our hospital team reported people complaining about during the pandemic was constipation. Here is our ideal opportunity to talk about the importance of bowel health.
Firstly, everybody’s bowel is different; what is normal for you, may not be normal for anyone else.
Secondly, there are three things that are vital to bowel health and they are as follows;
1. Diet - a good healthy balanced diet; this means including fruit and vegetables, fibre in the form of grains (beans/peas/pulses/seeded breads/cereals etc) and protein of your choice. Sadly, for many, chocolate or alcohol don’t fall in to those groups.
2. Hydration - every cell in the body needs to be well hydrated to function at its best. Tea and coffee alone can be dehydrating, as can alcohol, if drunk in the quantities that have become popular today. Water, juice or squash (non sugar based) should also be a staple part of your daily routine to keep the body well lubricated/functioning. The bowel needs to be well hydrated to enable passage of stools and lack of oral intake is one of the big contributors to constipation.
3. Exercise - Exercise helps in moving the stools through the bowel in a timely fashion, preventing them from sitting too long in the colon and becoming dry and hard to pass. Constipation can also make you feel bloated, nauseous and generally unwell as it is a water product sitting in a confined space for too long. Think about a rubbish bag full of household scraps and general debris sat out in the weather for too long - not a pleasant thought.
So, we can all be complacent when things are going well with our bowels, indeed bowels are one of the underestimated systems of the body, however, bowel cancer is “up there” with the common cancers in the UK. Only you can start the process of elimination to find out what the problem is.
“The hardest part of any journey, is taking that first step” (unknown)