Bowel cancer has an overlap of symptoms with pregnancy, which can make it hard to detect in young women.
Bowel cancer is mostly associated with older men, but it’s becoming one of the fastest rising cancers in young people. Also, many of its symptoms - fatigue, nausea, vomiting, rectal bleeding, anaemia, altered bowel habits, and abdominal mass - are the same ones that can also occur during pregnancy.
This is exactly what happened to Katy who became pregnant with her second son. She was sick every day for five months. A routine 12 week blood test revealed Katy was anaemic, which left her feeling tired and breathless. She stopped taking her prescribed iron tablets as they disrupted her bowel habits. A 20 week blood test indicated the levels of iron in her blood had continued to drop even lower.
"I just felt tired and unwell, " she tells Cosmopolitan UK. "I’d forgotten what it felt like to feel well."
One night, she noticed a large lump in her side. She underwent scans, and was quickly told she had an 11cm tumour on her bowel. It was cancerous, doctors said, and it had spread to her liver. The diagnosis explained it all-- the bulging tumour had been masked by her pregnancy bump.
Katy underwent surgery in Brazil, and as she began to recover from the operation, she could instantly feel the difference in her health.
"Though cases like Katy’s are rare, unfortunately we do hear from patients who experience delays to their diagnosis because of their age, and additionally pregnancy can also mask the symptoms," Deborah Alsina MBE, Chief Executive of Bowel Cancer UK, told Cosmopolitan.
"Bowel cancer is very treatable but the earlier it is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat. People whose cancer is diagnosed at an early stage have a much higher chance of successful treatment than those whose cancer has become more widespread," says Deborah.
"Most people with these symptoms don’t have bowel cancer. Other health problems can cause similar symptoms. But if you have one or more of these, or if things just don’t feel right, go to see your GP," advises Deborah.