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Can bowel cancer symptoms come and go?

8 Nov 2018 05:55

I’m 42 and have been having discomfort in my upper right abdomin along with bloating and constipation over the last 12 months. I struggle with health anxiety and try  hard to fight it by not seeking treatment for and overthinking  minor symptoms. When the symptoms first started a friend had just died of bowel cancer which started in her early 30s and I had also been losing weight. My GP did blood tests, an ultrasound and stool tests, but I remained very worried and saw a consultant privately. He said he could see no sign of trouble and given my age it was likely constipation, but offered a colonoscopy. I had to wait over the Christmas break for it, and by the time it arrived my symptoms had gone so I cancelled it. The pain re-emerged over the summer and I scheduled another colonoscopy in Sept. This time his office did not send the prescription for prep drugs and again, by the time they could reschedule, I had no symptoms so didn’t reschedule. The symptoms came back this week and I tried to treat them with a laxative. This resulted in a lot of pain, nausea and a worsening of symptoms and I have not been able to work. I’ve seen a GP who thinks I have IBS in a localised area and has given drugs to treat that (this is the first ‘diagnosis’ I have been given) and I have rebooked the colonoscopy for a few weeks’ time. However, I am now unable to stop thinking that this is cancer and I have let it go on for a year unchecked. I had been battling anxiety about these symptoms by telling myself that if it were cancer it would have gotten steadily worse, not come and gone as it has (which does seem like IBS) but I don’t know if that true. Can anyone tell me if it is?  I know these forums were a great comfort to my friend and I feel ashamed posting here for reassurance. 

Re: Can bowel cancer symptoms come and go?

8 Nov 2018 07:27 in response to Rose76

Hi Rose76. Welcome to the forum.

I should start out by saying that I don't have any medical qualifications.

I'm 64 now, but I've had IBS for around 40 years, and also diverticular disease for the last 5 years or so. The symptoms of IBS (and attacks of diverticular disease) definitely come and go, and IBS definitely gets worse at times of stress.  There are drugs such as Mebeverine and Alverine Citrate which can alleviate the symptoms of IBS, but they aren't cures and you need to take them for life. I found them to be better than nothing, but not really very helpful. A couple of years ago, after yet another attack of diverticulitis, my doctor insisted that I have a colonoscopy.  Fortunately, this confirmed the diagnosis of diverticular disease and found no cancer. 

Now, I'm going to get real. The only reasonable test that will confirm you don't have bowel cancer is a colonoscopy. You will continue to worry until you have this test, and it would be a mistake to cancel for a third time. 

Please let us know how you get on. 

Re: Can bowel cancer symptoms come and go?

8 Nov 2018 09:06 in response to telemando

Thanks for your reply. I’ll certainly not delay the test again having felt as unwell as I have this week. Because I struggle so much with anxiety and no doctors I spoke to felt the test was something necessary rather than optional, I worried that I was time-wasting. I’m now feeling so unwell that I’m sure I’m not, though I’m trying to focus on it being just as -if not more- likely that this is something benign than not. If it is IBS I suspect my current state of panic will only make symptoms worse, but I’m really struggling to make my mind stand down until the 26th. Thank you again. 

Re: Can bowel cancer symptoms come and go?

8 Nov 2018 12:29 in response to Rose76

Hi Rose.

I'll just remind you that I have no medical qualifications. 

There is a treatment (but not a cure) that can definitely help some people with IBS, however you should get cancer excluded first; it's also not something you can do by yourself so I won't mention it just now. You're not really old enough for bowel cancer to be likely which I think is why the doctors said the test was optional. But this will continue to gnaw at you until you get tested, so don't cancel a third time.

Re: Can bowel cancer symptoms come and go?

8 Nov 2018 12:46 in response to telemando

It’s important to have the colonoscopy, hopefully put your mind at rest if nothing else. There is no such thing as being too young for bowel cancer unfortunately so look at symptoms and get it ruled out. Keep positive

Re: Can bowel cancer symptoms come and go?

8 Nov 2018 13:53 in response to Rose76


There are a number of things which would explain your symptoms other than bowel cancer.

I’m just another patient but for about 30 years I’ve had recurrent bouts of ulcerative colitis which comes and goes and ironically is often triggered by stress and anxiety - a classic example of mental health issues triggering physical health issues. Typically the symptoms come and go as it flares up and then fades away. 

An endoscopy and if appropriate biopsy is the only reliable way to assure you that you don’t have bowel cancer and to identify what the problem really is and to start treatment.


Good luck!


Re: Can bowel cancer symptoms come and go?

8 Nov 2018 15:37 in response to davek

Thanks everyone. My friend was 32 when she was diagnosed with bowel cancer and 36 when she died from it, so know that there’s no ‘too young’. I really should have gone along for the colonoscopy back in Jan and saved myself all this worry.

Davek, did you mean endoscopy or colonoscopy? Both have been mentioned as things I could do, but to be honest the private consultant made me feel he would do anything I asked him to and I didn’t think my over-anxious mind should be the thing driving invasive tests. It’s the colonoscopy I have scheduled, the trouble does seem to be intestinal rather than stomach and up so though that made sense. 

Re: Can bowel cancer symptoms come and go?

8 Nov 2018 16:21 in response to Rose76

Sorry for causing confusion - a colonoscopy is an endoscopy of the colon ... so its effectively the same thing. At the other end of the digestive system it is called a gastroscopy - but both are often referred to as an endoscopy. 

Re: Can bowel cancer symptoms come and go?

9 Nov 2018 09:31 in response to Rose76

Hi Rose. I'm very sorry to read about your friend, but she was very much a rare exception. 

You can find an up-to-chart of bowel cancer incidence by age on the Cancer Research UK site. 

From the chart, the incidence of bowel cancer for females between 30-34 is 6 in every 100,000 similar women.  It's a slightly higher risk between 40-44 at 12 in every 100,000 similar women.  Neither of these risks is zero (we don't live in a world free of risk), but terms of absolute risk, they are pretty low.

To put them in context, the chance of being killed in a car accident is 3 per 100,000 in the UK and around 10 in a 100,000 in the US.  Yet most people don't freak out about the thought of dying in a car crash; they simply accept the risk, take reasonable precautions, and get on with living their lives - crossing the road and driving their cars as and when necessary. 

Re: Can bowel cancer symptoms come and go?

10 Nov 2018 11:24 in response to telemando

Thanks for the stats - I’m a scientist by training so despite the rampant anxiety I do take comfort in reassuring data. Had no idea rates were that low and how really hugely unlucky my friend was. Sad


Looking forward to the colonoscopy to put this to test, but saw GP yesterday and am officially diagnosed with IBS so getting started on treatment for that now. 

Re: Can bowel cancer symptoms come and go?

10 Nov 2018 11:53 in response to Rose76

Hi Rose

Now you have a diagnosis I feel happier talking about possible IBS treatments. 

After 35 years of IBS treatments not working, I finally found relief with the "FODMAP" exclusion protocol.  

This involves removing huge classes of foods from your diet for 3 or more months until your symptoms have settled down, then cautiously re-introducing food groups and keeping careful notes of your reactions. 

I'll be honest. This is hard and difficult, and at first I thought it wasn't working and a waste of time. However, I persevered and discovered that I'm triggered by baked beans and mushrooms, and I can take milk and dairy in small amounts, but I'm better with soy and almond milk substitutes. Since making these changes about a year ago I've had no major IBS symptoms and my gut is generally happier.

Unfortunately, the whole protocol is a major pain. It's too difficult to manage without proper support and it involves major changes to your diet (if only for three months), so it's not an easy option. Nevertheless, it did work for me and I feel much better for it.  If you think it's something you'd like to try, then talk to your GP about getting a referral to a dietician with the experience to lead you through the process. What you shouldn't do is randomly exclude items in the hope that you'll hit on a winning formula. Everybody's triggers are different, they're often unexpected (mushrooms! I love mushrooms!), and it is often difficult to identify which foods are in which group, anyway.