Know the signs of bowel cancer – early detection saves lives

03 April 2018

April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, and GPs in Barking and Dagenham, Havering and Redbridge (BHR) are reminding people that spotting bowel cancer early could save your life.

Bowel cancer is one of the UK’s biggest cancer killers, but it is treatable and curable, especially if caught at the earliest stage. The risk increases with age, with almost 90 per cent of cases occurring in people aged 60 or over.

Screening remains one of the most effective ways of spotting bowel cancer early, and the NHS Bowel Screening Programme is available to anyone aged 60 and over who is registered with a GP and lives in outer north east London.

For those aged between 60 and 74, a testing kit is sent to your home every two years to make it quick, simple and comfortable to collect a small stool sample and return it in a sealed envelope for testing.

Anyone aged 75 and over can request a kit by calling the free bowel cancer screening helpline on 0800 707 60 60.

However, bowel cancer can affect people of any age, therefore raising awareness of the symptoms is crucial for early diagnosis.

BHR Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) are encouraging people to know and look out for the signs of bowel cancer, which include:

  • Persistent blood in your stools
  • A change in bowel habit – particularly going more often, with looser stools
  • Lower abdominal (tummy) pain, bloating or discomfort
  • Feeling more tired than usual
  • Unexplained weight loss

Experiencing these signs does not mean that you have bowel cancer, as other health problems can cause similar symptoms. However, if they persist, or things don’t feel right, make an appointment with your GP. Further information is available from NHS Choices, including an NHS bowel cancer symptom checker.

Dr Maurice Sanomi, a clinical director for cancer at BHR CCGs, said: “Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in the UK, but it can be treated in the vast majority of cases, if caught early enough.

“The sooner it’s diagnosed, the greater the likelihood of survival. It’s essential that people are able to spot the signs and symptoms and, if things don’t feel right, book an appointment with their GP.

“Bowel cancer can affect anyone, at any age, but we know that the risk increases as people get older. That’s why we encourage those aged 60 and over to take part in the NHS screening programme – it’s free and could save your life.”

The exact causes of bowel cancer are unknown, but there are a number of things that can increase the risk, including:

  • Age
  • A diet high in red or processed meats
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Inactivity/lack of exercise
  • High alcohol consumption and smoking
  • A family history of developing bowel cancer – this should be discussed with your GP
  • Other conditions such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease

You can reduce your risk of developing bowel cancer by making lifestyle changes such as eating a low-fat, high-fibre diet, including fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains, cutting down on red and processed meat and increasing physical activity.

For more information about April’s Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, please see www.bowelcanceruk.org.uk and www.beatingbowelcancer.org