Tenesmus is distressing loo sensation that could alert of bowel cancer

Bowel cancer: Dr Philippa Kaye lists the symptoms

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The greatest weapon in the fight against cancer is early detection. This makes knowing the symptoms front and centre. Bowel cancer signs often revolve around your stool but one red flag is felt rather than spotted. An expert shares how to identify this “distressing” sensation “early”.

You might think that whatever happens when you go for a number two should stay in the toilet behind closed doors.

However, paying attention to your bowel habits and all that comes with them could break the news of serious health problems, including bowel cancer.

Mr Anthony Antoniou, a Consultant Colorectal Surgeon at The Princess Grace Hospital and London Digestive Centre, said: “Amongst other symptoms, tenesmus is an early warning sign of bowel cancer which is often ignored. 

“Bowel cancer is often referred to as a hidden disease since the symptoms are often very subtle. 

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“However, complications when going to the toilet can be a warning sign for a developing tumour.”

While blood in your poo and bowel habit changes are infamous symptoms of the deadly condition, tenesmus is a lesser-known sign.

Mr Antoniou said: “Tenesmus describes a physical feeling in which you may feel that you need to have a bowel movement, even if you just had one and know your colon is empty. This can be constant or intermittent.”

This “very distressing” symptom basically makes you feel like you need to poo even when you can’t poo anymore, as your bowels are empty.

According to Cancer Treatment Centers of America, tenesmus is one of the “early warning” signs of bowel cancer.

Mr Antoniou explained that the uncomfortable sensation usually starts cropping up when colon cancer progresses due to persistent and increasing inflammation.

While this symptom could ring alarm bells early, the prevalence of tenesmus is “unknown”.

Mr Antoniou said: “The prevalence of tenesmus in the cancer population is unknown. 

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“In patients with recurrent rectal cancer, the reported prevalence of tenesmus is around 14 percent. 

“Despite low prevalence, tenesmus is acknowledged clinically as a very distressing symptom that affects the quality of life.”

However, once you experience this toilet sensation, you should speak to your GP.

Mr Antoniou said: “Tenesmus, when present, is continuous which triggers patients to seek medical advice. 

“If patients present to their GP with tenesmus, then the healthcare professional will carry out and examination and request some investigations.”

Apart from this unpleasant sensation, other symptoms of bowel cancer include:

  • Persistent blood in your poo (that happens for no obvious reason or is associated with a change in bowel habit)
  • Persistent change in your bowel habit (having to poo more and your poo may also become more runny)
  • Persistent lower abdominal (tummy) pain, bloating or discomfort (that’s always caused by eating and may be associated with loss of appetite or significant unintentional weight loss).

“See a GP If you have any of the symptoms of bowel cancer for three weeks or more,” the NHS urges.

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