29 March 2019
Spotting the symptoms can save your life!
That is the message from medical experts supporting Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, which runs throughout April.
It is the UK’s second biggest cancer killer - claiming a life every 30 minutes, yet bowel cancer that's spotted early can be successfully treated in over 90% of cases.
Consultant Laparoscopic General and Colorectal Surgeon Mr Matthew Hanson is calling on people to recognise the symptoms so they are able to act quickly if they spot anything out of the ordinary, and stresses that early treatment could mean the difference between life and death.
Mr Hanson, who has regular clinics at Spire London East Hospital, added that people between the ages of 60 to 74 are sent screening kits to their homes to test for blood in their stool, but also noted that people outside this age range should also be aware of what is normal so they can then recognise any changes.
“There are increasing incidents in patients below the national screening age and there are plans to lower the age of screening introduction to 50, so it pays for everyone to be on the lookout for any of the tell-tale signs,” he explained.
Figures provided by Cancer Research show that over 93% of people diagnosed with bowel cancer at an early stage survive for at least five years compared with less than 7% of those diagnosed at a late stage.
But figures from Bowel Cancer UK say that just over half of people who receive a free test in the post – sent every two years to people aged between 60 and 74 – actually go on to complete it.
“That means the vast majority of people are just not being tested. Screening can detect bowel cancer before any symptoms appear which means it is much easier to treat and success rates are very high. However, even if you haven’t been screened you should still be on the lookout for symptoms,” said Mr Hanson.
“A change in your bowel habit that lasts for three weeks or more and blood in your poo are warning signs that need acting upon as soon as possible. Other signs include unexplained weight loss, feeling tired without reason, stomach pains or a lump in the stomach.
“Your first stop is often your GP who, after an initial assessment, can refer you to be assessed in a clinic by a colorectal surgeon who may decide to investigate with a colonoscopy (flexible camera test of the bowel) or a CT scan.”
In many cases there is not a clear cut reason why some people develop bowel cancer, but you can reduce your personal risk of developing cancer by making some simple lifestyle choices.
Stop smoking: Long-term smokers are more likely than non-smokers to develop bowel cancer.
Watch your weight: After not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight is the most important thing you can do for cancer prevention.
Cut down on alcohol: Bowel cancer has been linked to a heavy intake of alcohol. The more you cut down, the more you reduce your risk.
Exercise regularly: Besides using up extra calories and helping you avoid gaining weight, being physically active also helps food to move through your digestive system more quickly.
Eat healthily: Make sure you eat plenty of dietary fibre from whole grains, seeds, fruit and vegetables. This helps to move waste quickly through your digestive system. Also drink plenty of water. Reduction in red meats and saturated fats can also help to lower risk of bowel cancer.
Mr Matthew Hanson added: “The most recent figures show bowel cancer claims the lives of around 16,000 people in the UK every year, so Bowel Cancer Awareness Month is a good time to let people know they can actually do positive things to improve their health and increase their chances of successful treatment.”