24 April 2017
Screening works – so take the test! That’s the message from medical experts who are using Bowel Cancer Awareness Month to highlight the importance of people over 60 completing the free national screening programme.
It is the UK’s second biggest cancer killer claiming a life every 30 minutes yet bowel cancer spotted in the earliest stages can be successfully treated in over 95% of cases, say NHS figures.
But Bowel Cancer UK says that only a third 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,” says Consultant Colorectal Surgeon Mr Christopher Wright, “That a 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.”
Mr Wright, who practices at Spire Tunbridge Wells Hospital in Kent, also urged people of all ages to be on the lookout for symptoms so they could act quickly if they spotted anything out of the ordinary. "We know that many people who do return the test already have some bowel symptoms and if that is the case then reporting them to your GP is a safer way of checking things out than just doing the screening test."
He said: “A change in your bowel habit that lasts for three weeks or more and persistent blood in your poo are potential warning signs that need acting upon as soon as possible. Other signs can include unexplained weight loss, feeling tired without reason, stomach pains or a lump in the stomach.
“Your first stop is your GP who, after an initial examination, will send people with bowel symptoms to be assessed in clinic by a colorectal surgeon usually meaning an endoscopy (flexible camera test of the bowel) or a CT scan.”
In most cases there is not a clear cut reason why 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.
Mr Wright 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.”