The 3 signs of bowel cancer that Deborah James wants you to check for

Yesterday, Dame Deborah James (better known as Bowel Babe) passed away at the age of 40, after a six-year battle with bowel cancer. She was surrounded by her family in Woking, where she had been receiving end-of-life care. 

The announcement, which was posted by James’ family reads: "We are deeply saddened to announce the death of Dame Deborah James; the most amazing wife, daughter, sister, mummy.” 

It goes on to quote Deborah, saying: “Find a life worth enjoying; take risks; love deeply; have no regrets; and always, always have rebellious hope. And finally, check your poo - it could just save your life.”

Tributes have poured in for the host and co-founder of the podcast You, Me and The Big C, who has raised millions of pounds for cancer research.

Prince William, who visited James’ parent’s home in May to deliver her Damehood, has tweeted to say, "Deborah was an inspirational and unfalteringly brave woman whose legacy will live on."

“Deborah’s amazing attitude was humbling and a lesson to us all,” starts Amanda Pritchard, the chief executive of the NHS, in their statement. She continues: “Not only will her fundraising have helped countless other cancer patients but her determination to raise awareness will undoubtedly have saved many lives.”

After receiving her diagnosis in 2016, the podcaster and campaigner set out to increase education about bowel cancer. First, she launched a blog and then started to write for national newspapers before becoming a BBC broadcaster. 

Last month, Deborah stepped back from campaigning after deciding to stop receiving active care. Despite this move, she launched the Bowelbabe fund with Cancer Research UK. The fundraiser, which is dedicated to increasing research into personalised medicine for cancer patients, raised over £1m in 24 hours. 

In her final podcast, James’ signed off with her best advice: “Check your poo. Come on. I can't leave on any other word apart from check your poo.”

Here are three signs of bowel cancer that you should look out for: 

  1. A persistent change to your bowel habit - You might realise that you are pooing more, passing loose stools or experiencing constipation. 

  2. Tummy pain or bloating caused by eating - Bowel cancer can sometimes prevent digestive waste from passing through the bowel. This causes severe abdominal pain, swelling, weight loss and sickness. Bowel obstruction is a medical emergency and if you are experiencing all of these symptoms you should call 999.

  3. Blood in your poo - Dame Deborah James’ words have never been so important. If you do not have piles and you see blood in your poo, seek help from a medical professional. 

It’s important to keep in mind that most people with these symptoms will not have bowel cancer. That said, if you experience any of these symptoms for three weeks or more it’s better to get checked. 

If you are visiting your GP, it’s useful to arrive prepared. You could start a poo diary to track how often you go to the loo and any other symptoms you experience. You should make a note of what makes your abdominal pain better or worse and if you are worried about cancer, make sure to tell them. 

If you or someone you know needs support with bowel issues now, please check out the talkIBS hub for more articles, support programmes and product reviews

Image courtesy of @bowelbabe via Instagram.

Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. The content however should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands or treatments.

Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 29 June 2022
Next review: 29 June 2025