Do you know what bowel cancer symptoms to look out for?
Can you name two key symptoms of bowel cancer? And do you know how many people are too embarrassed to talk to their doctor about their poo? These may not be the type of questions you’re asked at your local’s pub quiz, but they’re far more important than reaching the top of the quiz league table. The answers to these questions can save your life.
Over the next five weeks watch out for TV and radio adverts promoting the Department of Health’s ‘Be Clear on Cancer’ bowel cancer campaign. The message is straightforward: if you’ve had blood in your stools, have been bleeding from your bottom, or have had looser motions for three weeks or more, see your doctor. These are some of the key symptoms that could indicate the early signs of bowel cancer. The others include unexplained weight loss, extreme tiredness for no obvious reason, and a pain or lump in your abdomen. They are all good reasons for making an appointment with your GP now.
“No one likes thinking about cancer, or talking about their poo,” says Care Services Minister Paul Burstow. “But the plain fact is no one dies of embarrassment, but they can die of cancer if they don’t get an early diagnosis. If you show any of the key symptoms, tell your GP. It could save your life.”
Embarrassment is a real problem with this disease. The survey carried out for the Department of Health which questioned 1,052 people found that one in three of us is embarrassed about talking to their GP about poo. Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in England, and so is a serious health threat. In 2008, UK figures showed that 22,097 new cases were diagnosed in men and 17,894 new cases were diagnosed in women. Most– 95 percent - are in people over 55. Each year there are about 13,200 deaths from the disease in England.
The good news – and one of the main messages in the campaign – is that bowel cancer is treatable if caught early. The earlier it’s diagnosed, the better your chances of survival. Over 93 percent of people whose cancer is spotted at an early stage survive for at least five years, compared with less than seven percent of those who are diagnosed at a late stage.
“Detecting bowel tumours early, before they’ve had a chance to spread, can significantly stack the odds in a patient’s favour,” says Dr Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive. “If people respond to this campaign – and take up bowel screening when invited to do so – we have a chance of pushing bowel cancer well down the league table of killers.
“We urge people to overcome their fear. For most, any symptoms will turn out to be nothing to worry about. But, for those people with cancer, the earlier they go to their doctor, the more likely they are to survive.”
Bowel cancer screening
The NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme offers screening every two years to everyone aged from 60 to 69. If you are over 70 you can ask for a screening kit to be sent to you by calling the freephone helpline 0800 707 6060. The kit is easy to use and comes with clear instructions. You can watch a video on www.cancerscreening.nhs.uk/bowel/bowel-screening-work.html
Beating Bowel Cancer
Bowel Cancer UK
NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme