April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month in the UK.  Why would an osteopath be thinking about bowel cancer?

Osteopaths are primary care providers – meaning they are trained to ‘triage’ your complaint and decide what kind of complaint it is – and they must not treat you if your problem is not suitable for treatment, or if they are unsure of what is happening with you.  They may have to refer you to your GP first – and this is entirely for your safety.

When some people feel low back pain, buttock pain or diffuse upper thigh pain they blame their back or hips and go to see an osteopath.  But they might have another problem entirely.  This is why  an osteopath might ask you at length about the patterns of your pain, about any abdominal pain, blood in your stool, or runny stools.  They may ask about your dietary habits, appetite, and weight. This is why osteopaths cannot diagnose you over the phone or during that quick chat in the queue – we need to be able to speak with you and examine you to be sure you are safe to treat and that your complaint is treatable by an osteopath – or if you need to be referred to someone else.   The issue that Bowel Cancer Awareness month raises for me as a clinician is around reminding patients about why I sometimes ask these kinds of questions – that it is my duty to their health to refer patients who may have something else going on with them.

According to Bowel Cancer UK factsheets, symptoms that are of concern (but which are not necessarily Bowel Cancer) :

  • three or more weeks of an unusual change in stool habit
  • blood in your stools
  • abdominal pain or an undiagnosed lump in your abdomen
  • extreme tiredness with no obvious cause

Bowel cancer affects people of all ages. Because bowel cancer can be detected early and treatment is available, the National Health Service runs a Bowel Cancer screening programme. The screening system can change but currently men and women without symptoms are invited to be screened every two years between the ages of 60-69, when people are more likely to develop bowel cancer.

If you’ve got back pain and I ask you lots of questions, it isn’t to be annoying – it is so that you are ‘safe in my hands’ and get the care you need.