Before you go to your GP
Before you go to your GP, it might be useful to keep a diary recording the symptoms you have been experiencing, and for how long.
It may also be worth printing this webpage, considering your answers to the questions below and take it with you to your appointment.
Alternatively Bowel Cancer Austraila's Bowel Cancer App can be downloaded to your mobile device which contains a list of questions to ask your GP.
At your GP's clinic
If you go to your GP with a bowel related problem, here is a list of routine questions which your GP should ask as part of your consultation:
- How recently did you start to notice the symptoms?
- Have you noticed any bleeding from your bottom? If you have, what did it look like - bright red, dark red - and how much blood was there?
- Have you noticed looser, more diarrhoea-like bowel movements, and going to the toilet more? Or, are you trying to go and feel that you are constipated, or unable to completely empty your bowel?
- Is there any family history of bowel cancer, or any other cancer?
- Have you experienced any unusual abdominal (tummy) pain or lumps?
- Have you unexpectedly lost weight or become more tired recently?
- - - - -
Your GP should also ask you additional questions on:
- your lifestyle and diet (to identify any other possible risk factors)
- your own past medical history
- any medicines you might be taking (including pain killers, anti-inflammatory medicines, indigestion remedies, antibiotics and laxatives)
Your GP will need to know how your symptoms are affecting your quality of life. This is a particular problem if the work you do makes it very difficult to cope, or if you are having to take time off because of embarrassing problems with changing bowel habit, or if your ability to work is being affected by pain; feeling tired or dizzy or getting short of breath; not being able to eat properly or needing to go to the toilet more frequently.
Examinations and investigations
In addition to asking questions about your symptoms, your GP will feel your abdomen for any lumps or tenderness, and may also perform a rectal examination (a gentle examination with a gloved finger to look for and feel for any suspicious lumps in the bottom or rectum).
If your GP does not examine you, you should ask why they have chosen not to.
Your GP may also choose to ask you to have a blood test to see if you have anaemia or anything else that may help with a diagnosis.
If your GP cannot find any clear cause for your symptoms, you may be asked to watch and wait for a week or so, to see if they settle on their own, or with the treament your GP prescribes to make you more comfortable. The younger you are, the more likely it is that your GP will want to exclude other, simple reasons for your symptoms as they are usually - but not always - related to diet and lifestyle choices.
It is very important to be clear about when you should go back to your GP again if the problems you are having do not get better. You should then be referred for further investigations by a specialist.
However old you are, you should never be told by your GP that you are too young to have bowel cancer.
While bowel cancer is more common from age 50, bowel cancer is becoming increasingly common in younger people too.
Guidelines for clinical significant symptoms
At any age, if your symptoms include any unexplained signs - blood in the bowel movement, changed bowel habit, anaemia or a lump in your abdomen - you should be referred by your GP for further investigation via colonoscopy within 30 days.
Similarly, you should be referred by your GP for further investigation via colonoscopy within 30 days if you have received a positive bowel cancer screening test (known as a faecal immunochmical test (FIT)) result.
The referral doesn't mean you have cancer. Most people with symptoms do not have cancer but it should be ruled out by further investigations.