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Cancer campaigner and podcast host Deborah James has raised more than £3.5million following her announcement that she was receiving end-of-life care for bowel cancer. The 40-year-old was first diagnosed with the condition in 2016, aged only 35.
Since her diagnosis, Deborah has become a prominent campaigner, raising awareness about cancer by writing a best-selling book and newspaper columns, as well as co-hosting her popular BBC podcast ‘You, Me and the Big C’. Nearly 200,000 have donated to her fundraiser amid an outpouring of sympathy since she made her announcement about her condition this week.
In January 2017, Deborah discussed the symptoms that first set alarm bells ringing in her mind. By her own admission, she was “a text book hypochondriac” before being struck down with bowel cancer, which at first made her apprehensive about her symptoms.
The mum-of-two and former teacher’s earliest symptoms included weight loss, making more frequent trips to the toilet and passing blood. Initially, Deborah explained, she had tried to downplay her own fears.
“However years of CBT has meant that I've learnt to rationalise every ailment – including the last year of a change in bowel habits that I put down to too much wine, a new job and stress of trying to be that full time working 'super mum',” she wrote.
“And yet I was still losing weight, passing blood, going what felt like 100 times per day and feeling shattered. I knew there was something wrong with me, a sixth sense if you will, because for the first time I was afraid – very afraid about taking this further.”
Deborah’s GP initially told her that her symptoms must be irritable bowel syndrome after her blood tests and stool sample came back apparently clear. Although she was a young, non-smoking, physically fit vegetarian, she was diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer after going for a private colonoscopy.
Her early symptoms are among the most common warning signs of bowel cancer, which is the fourth most common type of cancer. In the UK, nearly 43,000 people are diagnosed with the illness every year, with around 268,000 people currently living with it.
What are the main symptoms of bowel cancer?
According to the NHS, the most common symptoms of bowel cancer include unexplained weight loss, blood in your poo, abdominal pain, discomfort or bloating brought on by eating, and a persistent change in your bowel habit. This may include more frequent, looser or runnier poos, sometimes accompanied by abdominal pain.
However, most people who have these symptoms don’t have bowel cancer. Symptoms such as these can be caused by a range of other conditions, including IBS, haemorrhoids, diverticular disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, anal fissures, constipation and diarrhoea.
These conditions are common and can be treated or controlled. You can find out more about them – and how to treat them – by speaking to your GP.
What are the main risk factors for bowel cancer?
According to Cancer Research UK, factors which can increase your risk of bowel cancer include eating too much red or processed meat, eating too little fibre, being overweight or obese, smoking, drinking alcohol and not getting enough exercise. Other risk factors include family history and age; 40 per cent of people diagnosed with bowel cancer each year are over 75.
What should I do if I think I have bowel cancer?
If you have any of the potential symptoms of bowel cancer for a period of three weeks or longer, the NHS advises you to see a GP as soon as possible. You should also consult your GP if you simply feel there might be something wrong with your bowel.
Your GP will discuss your symptoms with you and, where they feel it’s necessary, will arrange for further tests. These may include blood tests and stool samples as well as a sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy or CT scan.
Some tumours may cause a bowel obstruction, which stops waste from passing out of your body; this is a medical emergency, and if you suspect your bowel is being obstructed, you should head to your nearest A&E department.
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