1 in 5 bowel cancers are misdiagnosed. On average, patients who were not diagnosed until their case became an emergency had visited their GP five times in the last 12 months. Symptoms of bowel cancer may be difficult to identify.

Misdiagnosed bowel cancer drastically decreases life expectancy in bowel cancer patients Cancer Research UK writes in their report. Many of the patients who were diagnosed late displayed atypical symptoms, which made the cancer harder for the GPs to diagnose. Cancer Research UK now call for increased diagnostic support for GPs to ensure that bowel cancer is caught earlier.


1 in 5 Bowel Cancers Misdiagnosed:The Research

Recent research finds that there is a clear link between cancer survival rates and awareness of cancer symptoms. On average, knowledge of one more cancer symptom was associated with a 1.6% increase in 1-year overall cancer survival for patients in that region.

Lead researcher Cristina Renzi, Cancer Research UK scientist at University College London, said:

We know that patients diagnosed with cancer after emergency presentations don’t do as well as patients who are diagnosed by their doctor through non-emergency routes. This study shows that most patients who are picked up through the emergency route can be harder to diagnose as they often don’t show typical bowel cancer symptoms.

She adds “In most cases, they visit their doctor for various reasons multiple times during the months leading up to their diagnosis, which could represent opportunities to diagnose the cancer earlier.”

Renzi was backed up by Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK’s head of patient information and health, who reports that new diagnostic tools are becoming more important to ensure that bowel cancer is caught early.

“This research shows the difficulties in diagnosing patients who are not showing typical symptoms of bowel cancer. In some cases where people have been diagnosed after an emergency presentation, there may have been opportunities for people to be diagnosed earlier, and it’s important to try to find better ways of picking up these patients and getting them referred appropriately.”

Many GPs miss symptoms of bowel cancer however recent research finds that there is a clear link between cancer survival rates and awareness of cancer symptoms.

Symptoms Of Bowel Cancer

A persistent change in bowel habits

Has your normal bowel habit changed in recent times? Are you going to the toilet more often or experiencing diarrhoea? Do you have constipation, bloating or incomplete emptying of your back passage after going to the toilet?

Bleeding from the bottom or blood in your stool

Have you been bleeding from your bottom with no clear reason such as local soreness, piles (haemorrhoids) or tears (anal fissures)? Have you tried over the counter remedies without the condition improving?

Pain in your stomach

Do you have constant or intermittent pain, discomfort or bloating always provoked by eating? It may be linked to going to the toilet or it might come and go like cramps or colic.

A lump in your abdomen

Can you feel a new, unexplained lump in your abdomen that won’t go away?

Dizziness, tiredness or breathlessness for no reason
Do you feel constantly tired, dizzy or breathless? Are you looking paler than usual?

Unexplained weight loss

Have you lost weight without dieting, maybe due to reduced appetite?

Mistaking these symptoms for other less serious illnesses is not uncommon, and one of the reasons why half of all cancer screenings happen too late. Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, with several million new diagnoses every year. I 2012 the World Health Organization registered 8.2 million cancer-related deaths worldwide and 14.1 million new diagnoses. Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer type worldwide after lung and breast cancer, and the second most deadly type.

Read: Healthy Appearances Can Hide Bowel Cancer Risk

Written by Hannah Kingston | Approved by Medical Director Dominic Rowley