April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month
By Dr Niruban Ratnarajah
Every 15 minutes someone in the UK is diagnosed with bowel cancer. That’s nearly 43,000 people a year - or one and a half times the capacity of the University of Bolton Stadium!
Bowel cancer is the UK’s second biggest cancer killer, but it needn’t be. The good news is that it is treatable, and nearly everyone who develops it will survive if it is diagnosed at the earliest stage.
The survival rate, however, drops significantly as the disease develops, which is why it is so important to contact your GP practice immediately if you have symptoms which have lasted more than three weeks. Symptoms include: pooing more often; blood in your poo; or tummy pain, discomfort or bloating when you eat.
Most people with these symptoms will not have bowel cancer, but your GP can arrange tests, such as a simple faecal immunochemical test (FIT), to find out.
FIT involves collecting a small sample of poo. This is then sent to a lab to be checked for tiny amounts of blood, which can be a sign of bowel cancer, or growths that could turn into cancer over time.
Bowel cancer can affect people of all ages, but it is more common in those over 50. That’s why people aged 60-74 in England who are registered with a GP are sent FIT screening tests in the post every couple of years. Make sure that you do your test when it arrives and send it back.
You could be asked to have a colonoscopy if a specialist needs to take a closer look at your bowel. This involves an endoscopist putting a thin flexible tube with a camera on the end up your bottom so they can see the inside of your bowel.
A colonoscopy is a very common and effective procedure, but some people may worry, or feel awkward or embarrassed, about having one.
If you are at all are anxious, Bowel Cancer UK’s Colonoscopy Confidence Campaign has lots of information about what to expect to put your mind at ease. This includes videos featuring patients who have had the procedure.
A colonoscopy can feel a little uncomfortable, but early diagnosis really does save lives.
More information on bowel cancel symptoms is on the NHS website.