Half of UK adults are unable to identify a healthy poo

toilet on a colourful background

Bowel cancer is the second biggest killer cancer in the UK.

Around 43,000 people are diagnosed each year, but half of UK adults have never taken up a cancer screening invitation and over a third of adults don’t know what warning signs to look out for.

Bupa has shared new research that reveals many feel too embarrassed to talk about their poo with a medical professional – despite how vital it is to do so when changes are apparent.

These barriers can lead to delayed diagnosis.

Bupa’s new Wellbeing Index asked 8,000 UK adults about their poo and a significant portion were unsure about the colour or consistency to look out for in their stools.

Shockingly, close to one in four are less likely to seek treatment for a bowel problem than any other medical concern.

While risk of developing bowel cancer rises with age, 24% of over-55s never check the appearance of their stools.

This is having a real impact on patient lives, as more than a third of those with bowel cancer are now first diagnosed in hospital A&E.

To provide patients with fast access to cancer tests and treatment, Bupa and HCA Healthcare UK have launched new specialist centres for bowel cancer.

The specialist centres at The Wellington Hospital, London Bridge Hospital and Cromwell Hospital, offer Bupa health insurance customers all initial cancer tests under one roof, within four working days.

Public Health England figures also reveal a problem in seeking help – more than one million of those invited for a bowel cancer screening in the past 2.5 years didn’t take up the invitation within six months of being invited.

Embarrassment is a factor as to why, as over a third of those surveyed said poo is a taboo subject.

Mr Shahnawaz Rasheed, consultant general surgeon at the Cromwell Hospital, says: ‘People worry about a potential diagnosis, but also perhaps worry more about what happens during an appointment, whether that’s an awkward, personal conversation or an examination.

‘It’s worth remembering that the doctors and nurses are there to help you through any anxieties you may have and to be sensitive to your needs.

‘And there’s no need for embarrassment – we see many patients with similar problems all the time.’

When caught early, 98% of people with bowel cancer will survive for a year or more – this figure halves when caught at a later stage.

What should we be looking out for?

Dr Robin Clark, medical director for Bupa Global & UK, says these are the signs we should keep in mind.

  • There’s no such thing as a perfect poo – it comes in all shapes and sizes, colours and textures. Your poo reflects what you’ve eaten lately so it’ll probably be different every time you go.
  • If you’ve had blood in your poo for no obvious reason, you should see your GP. The blood can be bright or dark red on the surface or mixed in with the poo – or you may notice it in the toilet bowl. Occasionally it can make your poo look black, like tar.
  • You should also be aware of persistent changes in your bowel habits. This includes having to poo more or feeling like you haven’t fully emptied your bowel when you’ve been – your poo may be looser or you may find it harder to go. If any of these changes last for three weeks or more, you should see your GP.
  • If you notice abdominal pain after eating, see your GP as soon as possible. Don’t put it off, early diagnosis really does save lives.
  • Other symptoms include unexplained weight loss and extreme tiredness for no reason. 

There’s no correct number of times of poo a day (Picture: Getty Images)

He says: ‘It can be hard to remember all the warning signs so I always advise people to be aware of what’s normal for them, and to “check-CUP for cancer”, to check for a Change that is Unexplained or Persistent.

‘It’s key that we normalise conversations about bowel movements and poo in order for people to stop feeling embarrassed and come forward if they’re experiencing symptoms.

‘It’s important to get familiar with your bowel movements, know what’s normal for you, and be aware when something isn’t right.’

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