Misdiagnosis of Bowel Cancer

Bowel cancer, also known as colon or colorectal cancer is one of the most common types of cancer. Whilst most people diagnosed with it are over the age of 60, it can develop at any age, and it is important for everyone to be aware of the symptoms of bowel cancer in order to seek early medical advice.


The symptoms of bowel cancer can be subtle and don’t necessarily make you feel ill.

  • Persistent blood in stools
  • A persistent change in your bowel habit
  • Persistent lower abdominal (tummy) pain, bloating or discomfort

As bowel cancer symptoms are also very common, and most people with them don’t have cancer, this can result in the failure to diagnose or delayed diagnosis of bowel cancer. For example, persistent blood in stools when associated with pain or soreness may be wrongly assumed to be caused by piles (haemorrhoids). A change in bowel habits or abdominal pain might be attributed to something you have eaten.

Risk Factors

There are a number of things which can increase your risk factor such as:

  • Age (aged 60 or over)
  • Diet (red or processed meats/low in fibre)
  • Weight (being overweight or obese)
  • Exercise (inactivity)
  • Alcohol or smoking
  • Family History
  • Medical Condition (Ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease)


When you see your GP regarding any bowel symptoms they should ask you about your symptoms and whether you have a family history of bowel cancer. They will usually carry out an examination of your bottom known as a digital rectal examination (DRE) and examine your tummy. They will also check your blood to see if you have iron deficiency anaemia. If your symptoms and risk factors suggest you may have bowel cancer or the diagnosis is uncertain, you should be referred for further investigations such as a:

  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy (an examination of your back passage (rectum) with a very small camera which relays images to a monitor and can also be used to take small tissue samples for further analysis).
  • Colonoscopy (an examination of your entire large bowel)
  • CT colonography (a virtual colonoscopy which produces three-dimensional images of the large bowel and rectum).

If a diagnosis of bowel cancer is confirmed, further testing is usually carried out to check if the cancer has spread from the bowel to other parts of the body. These can include:

  • A CT scan of your abdomen and chest
  • An MRI scan

Bowel Cancer Misdiagnosis and Delays in Treatment

Bowel cancer misdiagnosis and delay in treatment may arise where the medical professional who treated you:

  • failed to take an adequate history regarding your symptoms and family history of bowel cancer and/or failed to undertake an adequate examination (DRE/blood tests);
  • failed to recognise the symptoms of bowel cancer
  • failed to diagnose your illness correctly
  • failed to refer you for specialist investigations/treatment
  • failed to conduct the correct tests to discover/monitor your bowel cancer
  • the tissue samples (biopsy) may have been taken from the wrong area and/or have been incorrectly interpreted (i.e. reporting a false negative or a false positive)
  • failed to action any treatment for bowel cancer (e.g. due to a breakdown in the administration processes)
  • failed to provide the correct surgery/treatment
  • undertook inadequate/substandard surgery

Failure to diagnose bowel cancer

Bowel cancer is treatable and curable, especially if diagnosed early. A failure to diagnose or bowel cancer misdiagnosis can have a significant impact on a patient as any material delay in the treatment of bowel cancer can result in further complications as, the longer the bowel cancer remains undiagnosed and untreated, the less likely it is that the cancer will be treatable and curable. This can result in the need for more complex and lengthy treatment and can lead to death if the bowel cancer is not identified and treated early.

Initial Free Advice

If you have any concerns that you or someone close to you has been affected by a failure to diagnose or a delay due to bowel cancer misdiagnosis and wish to discuss or consider bringing a medical misdiagnosis claim, please contact one of our specialist Medical Negligence Solicitors, all of whom are experienced in dealing with a broad range of Medical Negligence Claims, for free initial independent advice.

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