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Screening for bowel cancer could save your life

In the U.K., someone is diagnosed with bowel cancer every 15 minutes. That’s a pretty scary statistic, but the good news is that bowel cancer is treatable and curable when caught early. All we have to do is get over our embarrassment… and what better time to do that than this April, which is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month?


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In a bid to help more people detect changes early — which means better outcomes, higher survival rates and even the chance to stop cancer from developing — Bowel Cancer UK is raising awareness of the importance of completing home screening tests.

According to the charity, up to two-thirds of eligible people (60- to 74-year-olds; 50- to 74-year-olds in Scotland) aren’t taking part in bowel cancer screening. Possibly because they don’t think there is anything wrong with them, or because it’s a notoriously British trait to be private and embarrassed when it comes to bodily functions.

However, there’s no room for embarrassment when it comes to bowel cancer, as it’s the U.K.’s second biggest cancer killer: More than 41,500 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year, and around 16,000 people die from it.

Bowel Cancer UK is keen to stress that for those diagnosed at the earliest stage of bowel cancer, there’s a 98 per cent five-year survival rate.

“Bowel cancer is one of the most treatable cancers”, said Gail Curry, head of health promotion at Bowel Cancer UK. “Screening saves lives by catching it at it’s earliest stage — when it’s most treatable”.

“The test is designed to diagnose any problems before symptoms arise, so just like cervical and breast screening, it’s a prevention method”, she added.

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Age is a major risk factor for bowel cancer, with 72 per cent of people diagnosed with the disease aged 65 and over. However, the number of young people developing bowel cancer is on the rise, so everyone should be aware of the possible symptoms. If you have ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, a condition called acromegaly (where the body produces too much growth hormone), a genetic condition that increases your risk of bowel cancer (such as Lynch syndrome or FAP) or a strong family history of bowel cancer, you may have screening tests at a younger age.

Possible signs of bowel cancer

  • Bleeding from the bottom and/or blood in your poo
  • A change in normal bowel habits lasting three weeks or more, especially to looser or runny poo
  • Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • A pain or lump in the tummy

These symptoms don’t always indicate cancer, but if you have one or more of them or if something just doesn’t feel quite right, it’s best to get checked by your GP without delay.

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