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Incontinence Advice

Bowel cancer and incontinence: what you need to know

Learn about the different aspects of bowel cancer and its relationship to incontinence in this informative article. Discover the early signs, symptoms, risk factors, and more. Don't let embarrassment keep you from seeking the help you need. MoliCare's Premium Form Stool is a purpose designed pad for faecal incontinence available to buy online if you or someone you care for is experiencing this problem.

A carer speaking with an elderly woman Copyright: PAUL HARTMANN

Over 43,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in the UK every year, making it essential to address difficult topics like incontinence and bowel cancer. Our bowel incontinence guide and range of incontinence products can help provide extra security and maintain dignity. For those with concerns about the connection between bowel cancer and incontinence, we're here to provide answers. Stay informed and make educated decisions about your health.

What is bowel cancer?

Bowel cancer is cancer that begins in the colon (large bowel) or the rectum (back passage). Its medical title is colorectal cancer. All cancers emerge when abnormal cells uncontrollably divide and grow. The cells can grow into the tissue or organs that surround them, and from here spread to other parts of the body.

Your treatment will depend on where cancer starts. The treatment for colon cancer may be different from that for rectal cancers.

The colon is part of the large bowel and is around five feet long, which is split into four parts:

  • ascending colon,
  • transverse colon,
  • descending colon and
  • sigmoid colon.

Our rectum is part of the passage that stores stool (poo) until it is ready to be passed out of the body into the toilet. Anal cancers begin at our anus, and small bowel cancers begin between the stomach and the large bowel.

What are the early signs of bowel cancer?

Early intervention is essential for successful treatment of the disease. It is vital that you don‘t ignore the early signs of bowel cancer. 

According to Bowel Cancer UK, the symptoms can include: 

  • Bleeding from your bottom
  • Blood in the stool
  • A change in bowel habit that persists and cannot be explained
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Unexpected extreme tiredness
  • Pain in your stomach/ lump in your stomach 

Most people suffering one or more of these symptoms will not be diagnosed with bowel cancer, as many health problems have similar symptoms. However, it is still essential that you go to the doctors for an investigation, even if you suspect it is something else.

What are bowel cancer symptoms?

Most people who are eventually diagnosed with bowel cancer have one of the following combinations of symptoms:

  • Blood in the stools (poo)
  • Changes in bowel habit – such as more frequent, looser stools
  • Abdominal (tummy) pain

It's important to remember that these symptoms are very common and often caused by other things, like hemorrhoids (piles) or something you've eaten.

As almost 9 out of 10 people with bowel cancer are over the age of 60, these symptoms are more important as people get older.

Don't hesitate to speak to your healthcare provider if you're concerned.

Any changes in toilet habits, extreme fatigue and sudden weight loss should also signal a concern. Although these are more generic symptoms, they are an early indicator of problems, and you need to see a GP. Even if all you are saying is that you don’t feel right, trust your instincts and get a check-up.

What causes bowel cancer?

The exact cause of bowel cancer is currently unknown. However, things called ‚risk factors‘ can increase the chance of a person developing it. Having one or more risk factors does not mean you will definitely get bowel cancer. And if you do not have any risk factors, this does not mean you will not get bowel cancer. 

  • Age: Bowel cancer is more common in older people. In the UK, around 4 in 10 bowel cancer cases (44%) each year are diagnosed in people aged 75 and over. (
  • A strong family history of bowel cancer
  • A history of non-cancerous growths (polyps) in your bowel
  • Longstanding inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • An unhealthy lifestyle

The most significant risk factor for bowel cancer is age. 90% of cases of bowel cancer occur in those over the age of 60.

However, other lifestyle factors can contribute to your chances of developing bowel cancer. If you eat a diet high in red or processed meats but low in fibre, then you increase your risk. Obesity is also a significant risk factor. Bowel cancer is more common in people who are overweight and those with a sedentary (unactive) lifestyle. Therefore, exercise and a balanced diet can help to reduce the risk.

Although there are risk factors, there is no definitive answer as to what causes bowel cancer. Therefore, even if you are in your 40s, living a healthy life with a healthy, balanced diet, if you experience the symptoms described, you should seek help.

Can bowel cancer be hereditary?

Family history – having a close relative (mother or father, brother or sister) who developed bowel cancer under the age of 50 may put you at a greater lifetime risk of developing the condition.


Some people have an increased risk of bowel cancer because they have another condition that affects their bowel, such as severe ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease, over a long period of time.


If you develop bowel cancer before the age of 50, there is a chance you have Lynch syndrome. The medical name for Lynch syndrome is hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC). It is thought this is a result of several potential inherited gene mutations. Alternatively, if there are a cluster of cases of bowel cancer in a family if could be a condition called familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP).


However, hereditary bowel cancers are relatively uncommon. The NHS note that these two inherited conditions are considered rare.


Can bowel cancer be detected in a blood test?

If your doctor suspects you may have colon cancer, they may recommend the following tests and procedures to confirm the diagnosis:

  • Colonoscopy: Using a scope to examine the inside of your colon. Colonoscopy uses a long, flexible and slender tube attached to a video camera and monitor to view your entire colon and rectum.
  • Biopsies: If any suspicious areas are found, your doctor can pass surgical tools through the tube to take tissue samples for analysis and remove polyps.
  • Blood tests. No blood test can tell you if you have colon cancer. But your doctor may test your blood for clues about your overall health, such as kidney and liver function tests.

Your doctor may also test your blood for a chemical sometimes produced by colon cancers (carcinoembryonic antigen, or CEA). Tracked over time, the level of CEA in your blood may help your doctor understand your prognosis and whether your cancer is responding to treatment.

Can bowel cancer be cured?

The importance placed on early detection is due to the chances for a cure. If your colon cancer is detected early, then it is possible that the treatment you receive could result in a cure.

However, the chance of a complete cure isn’t always possible, and there is a higher chance of cancer reoccurring later in life.

The later the diagnosis and the more advanced the condition, the more unlikely a cure becomes. If colon cancer cannot be completely removed by surgery, then a cure is considered highly unlikely. Seeing your GP as early as possible is essential if there is to be hope for this cure.

Is bowel cancer treatable?

It is vital to differentiate between the terms curable and treatable. It is possible to treat bowel cancer and so live with the condition, even though you are unlikely to be cured. Stage IV bowel cancer is often not curable, but your doctors may be confident with a combination of surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy that your disease can be managed. The doctors can also prescribe medicines that will help to ease the symptoms and make living with bowel cancer bearable.

What are the main risk factors for bowel cancer?

The most significant risk factor for bowel cancer is age. Nine out of ten diagnoses of bowel cancer are in people over the age of 60.

You can increase your risk for bowel cancer by:

  • Eating a lot of red or unprocessed meats
  • Failing to balance meat-eating with adequate high fibre foods
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Failing to exercise, therefore leading a sedentary lifestyle

Is Bowel Incontinence a Sign of Cancer?

Bowel leakage is rarely a sign of cancer. In cases where bowel leakage is caused by a condition such as irritable bowel syndrome or muscle weakness, gaining control of the underlying condition can help improve bowel control. Strengthening exercises and medications can help reduce the frequency of bowel leakage, and absorbent pads can make the condition less disruptive. 
While bowel leakage can be embarrassing, it’s a common condition. Most causes aren’t serious, but it’s essential to see a doctor to pin down the cause and determine the appropriate treatments.

At Hartmann Direct, we understand how challenging incontinence can be, and we are committed to providing you with the best possible care and support. Our wide range of continence aids, including pads, pants, and bed protectors, are designed to help you manage your symptoms and maintain your comfort and dignity. Additionally, our disinfection and skincare products can help you maintain a clean and healthy environment, reducing the risk of infection and skin irritation.

Visit our webshop to find a suitable product and subscribe to our newsletter today to take the first step towards greater comfort and confidence.


Does Bowel Cancer Cause Incontinence?

Bowel cancer may result in faecal incontinence or the accidental loss of stools or gas. Changes in toilet habit can be an early sign of bowel cancer due to the presence of obstructions in the bowel. However, surgery such as a colonic resection to remove the tumour, as well as pelvic radiotherapy, can also result in incontinence. Your doctor will help you manage these conditions by suggesting a change to your diet and through the prescription of medications.


A diagnosis of bowel cancer can be a dramatic experience. Additionally, consequential faecal incontinence can be highly distressing. The key message of this guide is that early detection is essential. The earlier the cancer is found, the more treatable, and potentially curable, the condition becomes. Therefore, if you are experiencing unusual toilet habits, especially if you see blood in the toilet, you should make an appointment to see a GP.

The other message is that you can manage your risk factors now. While some conditions are hereditary, they are rare. Although you cannot stop the natural aging process, you can manage your diet, exercise, and overall lifestyle.

Check out our new articles about maintaining an active lifestyle with incontinence: "Sport with Incontinence" and "How Anxiety Affects Your Bladder and Bowel". A healthier lifestyle can lead to a more robust bowel as well.

Products for Women

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