Earlier this year, Love Your Gut released some new research into the UK’s embarrassment around the subject of gut health. One key thing we found was that women are more open about discussing their bowel problems than men are. 41 % of women admitted that they had discussed their bowel problems with someone other than their doctor compared to only 29% of men. These figures are quite concerning particularly when the risk for some bowel diseases is actually higher in men than in women. Here at Love Your Gut we have explored the extent to which bowel disease can also affect men in our support for men’s health awareness month.
In the UK, 23,000 men were diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2011 making it the third most common cancer in men following lung and prostate cancer. Figures released by Cancer Research UK in 2013 show that bowel cancer rates have increased by nearly 30% for men compared to only a 6% increase in women in the last 35 years. It is still not clear why bowel cancer rates have increased particularly for men. Lifestyle factors play a big role in the risk of developing bowel cancer, so this large increase could be down to increased levels of smoking, increased alcohol consumption and a reduction in exercise for males. Whatever the reason for these differences, it still remains important to know the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer so that it can be detected earlier:
- Bleeding from the back passage or blood visible in the stools
- An increased frequency of bowel movements and looser stools
- Unexplained weight loss
- Bloating, swelling and a pain in the abdomen
Bowel Cancer Screening
The NHS offers bowel cancer screening to all men and women registered with a GP aged between 60-74 years. Those who take part in the screening are sent a Faecal Occult Blood (FOB) test to carry out at home. This test checks for the presence of blood in the stools, often an early sign of bowel cancer. There is also the option of a one off test called bowel scope screening for men and women at 55 years of age. This test involves using instruments to look inside the bowel and remove any growths (polyps) which may lead to cancer.
If you are younger, the risk of developing bowel cancer is a lot lower for you so you will not be invited for the screening programme. However, some people can have bowel screening at a younger age if they have certain conditions that can increase their risk of developing bowel cancer such as; Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative Colitis or a strong family history of bowel cancer. You may wish to discuss this option with your GP.
Meat and Cancer risk
You may want to rethink that Sunday morning fry up, post football hotdog and your weekly burger and pint night at the pub. Research over many years has suggested that those who eat large amounts of red and processed meat are more likely to develop bowel cancer than those individuals who eat small amounts. Red meats include those which red in colour before cooking and processed meats include those that are preserved e.g. bacon, sausages, salami, and ham. The evidence is now sufficient enough in this area to lead the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to rule that processed meat ‘definitely’ causes cancer and red meat ‘probably’ causes cancer. However, this does not mean that you should cut out these meats from the diet altogether. Instead you could occasionally swap processed and red meat for healthier alternatives such as fresh chicken, turkey or fish.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is the term used to describe Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s disease, both long term conditions that involve inflammation of the gut. IBD is just as common in males as it is in females, so if you have any of the following symptoms it is advised that you go to your GP:
- Pain and swelling in the abdomen
- Recurring or bloody diarrhoea
- Unexplained weight loss
Take a look a Love Your Gut’s digestive health page for further information on digestive disorders.