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The bowel cancer signs to look for as Tesco, Asda and Morrisons join #GetOnARoll campaign as tributes are paid to Dame Deborah James

Supermarkets have pledged to add the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer to their toilet roll packaging as tributes are paid to campaigner Dame Deborah James who has died.

The mum-of-two and former headteacher, who told her hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers in May that she was stopping active treatment, passed away peacefully surrounded by family, it was announced last night.

Since her diagnosis at the age of 35, Dame Deborah - who was given her Damehood by Prince William shortly after announcing that she was receiving hospice care at her parents' home - had dedicated her time between treatment to making people more aware of the signs of bowel cancer.

The podcast host of You, Me and The Big C has also raised close to £7 million through her Bowelbabe fund hurriedly launched in May when she left hospital - as she explained in her own words - to give 'more Deborahs more time'.

In confirming she was stopping active cancer treatment last month, Deborah wrote: "I know we have left no stone unturned. But even with all the innovative cancer drugs in the world or some magic new breakthrough, my body just can’t continue anymore."

Her work to raise awareness of the disease, and to change the conversation around bowel cancer and living with the disease, has been praised by everyone from the Prime Minister Boris Johnson to The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

In the days before her death supermarkets and brands also began committing to joining Bowel Cancer UK's #GetOnARoll campaign to put bowel cancer symptoms on the packages of toilet roll.

M&S, Andrex, Tesco, Aldi, Morrisons, Waitrose and Asda have all signed up to clearly displaying the signs of the disease on packaging - together with in some cases posters in supermarket aisles - to help their customers understand when they should go and see a doctor.

Alongside the promised change to packaging Tesco is also among the big donors to the Bowelbabe fund - pledging £300,000 to the fundraiser set up to invest in further research and clinical trials.

Dame Deborah’s mother, Heather James, shared Tesco’s announcement on Instagram, at the weekend shortly before her daughter's death, adding: ‘Well done Deborah and a big thank you to @tescofood for your support and £300,000 donation to the @bowelbabefund’.

Deborah James. Photo: Alamy / PA.
Deborah James. Photo: Alamy / PA.

Bowel cancer, says the NHS, is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in England, but its symptoms can be subtle and may not necessarily make someone with the disease feel ill.

So what are the signs and symptoms you should be aware of and when should you seek further medical advice?

1. A change in bowel habits

Going to the toilet more often, and possibly with stomach pain, can be a sign things aren't quite right. Stools may also be looser and you might have more of an urgency to go to the toilet.

2. Blood

Blood in your poo should always be investigated regardless of whether it is a bright red or darker colour. While the symptom could turn out to be haemorrhoids (piles), if you notice blood is appearing in your poo you should make an appointment with your doctor.

3. Stomach pain

Abdominal pain, discomfort or bloating that is brought on by eating should not be ignored. Sometimes this will also result in a reduction in the amount of food that you're able to eat alongside weight loss.

4. Constipation

While a change or increase in the amount of times you visit the toilet can be a red flag, so can going to the bathroom less often. While constipation, says the NHS, is rarely caused by a serious bowel condition anyone experiencing discomfort or who is passing harder stools, less often, should have the problem checked out.

Do you know the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer to look out for? Image: Stock photo.
Do you know the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer to look out for? Image: Stock photo.

While most people who experience the symptoms above do not have bowel cancer, medics insist the condition should be ruled out as part of tests.

Around 90% of people, says the NHS, with bowel cancer will report having experienced at least one of the signs above and so if you have any of the symptoms of bowel cancer for three weeks or more it is crucial that you speak to your GP.

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