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Bowel Cancer Awareness month

20 April 2016

Health Care

This month is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month and this year’s focus is on bowel cancer screening.

All men and women aged 60-74 are invited to carry out a faecal occult blood (FOB) test. Every two years, they're sent a home test kit, which is used to collect a stool sample. If you are 75 or over, you can ask for this test by calling the freephone helpline on 0800 707 60 60.

An additional one-off test called bowel scope screening is gradually being introduced in England. This is offered to men and women at the age of 55. It involves a doctor or nurse using a thin, flexible instrument to look inside the lower part of the bowel. 

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK but if diagnosed at an early stage can be treated successfully in over 90% of cases. In spite of this, bowel cancer remains the UK's second biggest cause of death from cancer.

Jacquie Joels, colorectal services at Southend Hospital, said: "Although 95% of diagnoses are in those over the age of 50, it is important for everyone to be bowel aware, to take part in screening and not to be embarrassed to talk to their GP about their symptoms."

Most patients with bowel cancer present with one or more of the following symptoms:

  • a persistent change in bowel habit, causing them to go to the toilet more often and pass looser stools, or difficulty in going
  • Bleeding from the back passage which may be in the stools
  • Unexplained tiredness, dizziness or breathlessness which may be due to anaemia
  • abdominal pain
  • a new abdominal lump which doesn't go away

The symptoms of bowel cancer can be subtle and don't necessarily make you feel ill.

Jacquie added: "Bowel cancer is treatable and curable especially if diagnosed early. However, this drops significantly as the disease develops. Taking part in bowel cancer screening is a good way to detect any polyps before they become cancerous or to get diagnosed early."

Positive steps towards helping to prevent bowel cancer include:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Taking at least 30 minutes of moderate physical exercise 5 times a week
  • Eating a diet rich in vegetables and fruit including a variety of colours
  • Limit intake of red and particularly processed meat
  • Limit your intake of alcohol
  • Avoid smoking

If you are aged between 60 and 74, you will be invited to take part in bowel cancer screening every two years. If you are aged 75 or over, you can ask for a screening test by calling the bowel cancer screening helpline on 0800 707 60 60. 

For more information about the screening programme in England, visit the NHS Choices website or call the bowel cancer screening helpline on 0800 707 60 60.