Bowel cancer: Dr Amir explains symptoms to look out for
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Despite being deadly, cancer doesn’t always present the way you’d expect it to, ticking off each item from the tell-tale symptom list. If any warning signs appear, they can be vague and slow to crop up. Diagnosed with the most severe stage of bowel cancer, Elizabeth Butterman, from Ipswich, experienced this first-hand. She received the daunting diagnosis in 2019 at the age of 37 and died two years later.
Elizabeth was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer but only experienced a handful of symptoms.
While blood in your stool is the tell-tale sign of bowel cancer, the woman’s first symptoms didn’t strike on the loo.
She told Bowel Cancer UK: “Up until a couple of months prior to this, life was good. I was living in New York on a work secondment.
“Just as my secondment was coming to an end and I was a month away from returning to the UK, I started noticing a pain in my upper right abdomen.
“It was intermittent but very noticeable when it did happen.”
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Due to the position of bowel cancer tumours, stomach pain is nothing surprising when it comes to the deadly condition.
However, Elizabeth also experienced pain in an unusual spot – her shoulder.
She said: “The first time I saw my GP, it was dismissed as a muscular issue and I saw a physiotherapist.
“However, deep down I started to feel something just wasn’t right.
“I had always been so healthy and suddenly I was in pain and I also had an underlying feeling of sickness.”
Eventually, she found herself not being able to enjoy food, with anxiety and panic creeping into her life.
Tummy symptoms like Elizabeth described are some of the tell-tale signs associated with the deadly condition.
According to the NHS, the “main” symptoms of bowel cancer include:
- Persistent blood in your poo (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 (always caused by eating)
- Loss of appetite
- Significant unintentional weight loss.
The health service recommends seeing a GP if you have any of these symptoms for three weeks or more.
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Elizabeth had decided to go back to her GP, who sent her for blood tests.
Her blood work revealed elevated levels of D-dimer protein, which usually appears when blood clots form or break down.
She was instructed to go to A&E, where she had a CT scan to check if the pesky clot was in her stomach.
She said: “An hour later my whole world was turned upside down when I was told I had bowel cancer and that it had spread to my liver.
“It was a complete shock and I’ll never forget that dreadful moment.”
Because the doctors found lesions on both lobes of her liver, surgery wasn’t an option but she was prescribed chemotherapy.
Elizabeth added: “Nothing can prepare you for a cancer diagnosis. It turns your life upside down and tests you to your limits.
“I am very fortunate to be surrounded by friends and family, a wonderful husband, nurses and an amazing oncologist.”
Sadly, Elizabeth died in November 2021.
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