Bowel cancer: symptoms, diagnosis and treatment as Julie Walters reveals she has stage three cancer

Dame Julie Walters has revealed she has been secretly battling stage three bowel cancer, but has recently been given the all clear.
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The BAFTA-winning Mamma Mia actress, 69, underwent chemotherapy and surgery following her diagnosis 18 months ago.

‘Slight discomfort’

Walters initially raised symptoms of indigestion and ‘slight discomfort’ with doctors, after which they found two primary tumours in her large intestine.

Dame Julie Walters has now been given the all clear (Photo: Getty Images)Dame Julie Walters has now been given the all clear (Photo: Getty Images)
Dame Julie Walters has now been given the all clear (Photo: Getty Images)
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She later returned with symptoms including stomach pain, heartburn and vomiting.

Speaking of her shock diagnosis, Walters told BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire: “I was still thinking, ‘That’s ridiculous, he must have made a mistake’. I couldn’t believe it.”

The award-winning star was diagnosed while shooting her latest film The Secret Garden, after doctors informed her they had found an abnormality.

She explained she had 30cm taken out of her colon during surgery, and after opting for chemotherapy, Walters told the BBC presenter she was now feeling “really well”.

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She said: “I’ve just had a scan, and I know that [I’m] clear.”

Walters is now urging the public to “go and get things checked” if any discomforting symptoms arise.

What are the symptoms of bowel cancer?

The symptoms of bowel cancer can often be subtle and don’t necessarily make you feel ill, the NHS explains.

More than 90 per cent of people diagnosed with bowel cancer have one of the following symptoms:

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- a persistent change in bowel habit – pooing more often, with looser, runnier poos and sometimes tummy (abdominal) pain

- blood in the poo without other symptoms of piles (haemorrhoids) – this makes it unlikely the cause is haemorrhoids

- abdominal pain, discomfort or bloating always brought on by eating – sometimes resulting in a reduction in the amount of food eaten and weight loss

Constipation, where you pass harder stools less often, is rarely caused by serious bowel conditions.

Most people with these symptoms do not have bowel cancer.

When should you see a doctor?

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If you experience one of more of these symptoms and they persist for more than four weeks, the NHS advises visiting your GP.

Your doctor may decide to:

- Carry out a simple examination of your tummy and bottom to make sure you have no lumps

- Arrange for a simple blood test to check for iron deficiency anaemia – this can indicate whether there’s any bleeding from your bowel that you haven’t been aware of

- Arrange for you to have a simple test in hospital to make sure there’s no serious cause of your symptoms

Who is at risk?

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While the exact cause of bowel cancer is unknown, there are a number of factors that can increase your risk, including:

- Age – almost nine in 10 cases of bowel cancer occur in people aged 60 or over

- Diet – a diet high in red or processed meats and low in fibre can increase your risk

- Weight – bowel cancer is more common in people who are overweight or obese

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- Exercise – being inactive increases your risk of getting bowel cancer

- Alcohol and smoking – a high alcohol intake and smoking may increase your chances of getting bowel cancer

- Family history – having a close relative who developed bowel cancer under the age of 50 puts you at a greater lifetime risk of developing the condition. Screening is offered to people in this situation, and you should discuss this with your GP.

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