Bowel Cancer Awareness Month 2023
April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month. This is an annual opportunity to raise awareness of bowel cancer and funds to help support the work carried out by charities such as Bowel Cancer UK.
What is bowel cancer?
The bowel is part of the digestive system. It is made up of the small bowel (small intestine) and the large bowel (colon and rectum). Cancer is more likely to develop in the large bowel and is called bowel cancer or colorectal cancer. Most bowel cancers develop from pre-cancerous growths called polyps. Not all polyps develop into cancer. If your doctor finds any polyps, they can remove them to prevent them from becoming cancerous.
The facts and figures about bowel cancer
- Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK and the second biggest cancer killer
- Almost 43,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK
- More than 94% of new bowel cancer diagnoses occur in people over the age of 50, but it can also affect younger people too
- Bowel cancer is treatable and curable, especially if diagnosed early. Nearly everyone survives bowel cancer if diagnosed at the earliest stage – hence the importance of recognising the early warning signs and doing something about them.
You may have seen coverage on the news recently stating that almost 4 in 10 people in the UK cannot name a single symptom of bowel cancer! As a result, Bowel Cancer UK has launched their #KnowTheHigh5 campaign to raise awareness of the red-flag symptoms of the disease.
What are the five red flag symptoms of bowel cancer?
The five main symptoms to be aware of are:
- Blood in your poo
- Unexplained weight loss
- Pain, bloating, discomfort or lump in your abdomen/tummy
- Persistent and unexplained change in your bowel habit (eg. frequency or consistency)
- Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason.
Of course, these symptoms might not be related to bowel cancer and could be caused by other health conditions. But if you have any of these symptoms, you should go and see your GP. Don’t be embarrassed and don’t ignore the symptoms. When cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, there is usually a much higher chance of successful treatment.
Risk factors of bowel cancer
Some factors increase your risk of getting bowel cancer. These include:
- Being over 50
- Having a history of non-cancerous growths (polyps) in your bowel
- Type 2 diabetes
- Having a strong family history of bowel cancer
- Having a longstanding inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
- Practising an unhealthy lifestyle.
Bowel Cancer Screening in England
Screening aims to detect bowel cancer at an early stage when treatment has the best possible chance of success. The home test kits can help to find blood in your poo which might be a sign of cancer. The tests can also identify non-cancerous growths (polyps) which can develop into cancer.
Since April 2021, if you are aged between 56 and 74 years you will automatically be invited to take part in the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Scheme every two years. The programme is gradually being expanded to include people from age 50.
Diagnosis of bowel cancer
If you have any symptoms of a bowel problem, you should see your GP as soon as possible. If the symptoms persist, you should go back to your GP. Your GP will take a detailed history from you and may examine your abdomen or rectum. They may arrange a blood test and a faecal immunochemical test (FIT) to check for hidden blood in your poo. Depending on the results, they may need to refer you to a colorectal specialist at the hospital for other tests, such as an endoscopy or colonoscopy. In such circumstances, you’ll usually be given an urgent referral and should see the specialist or have further tests within two weeks.
Treatment of bowel cancer
If you receive a bowel cancer diagnosis, you’ll have an appointment with a member of a Multidisciplinary Team (MDT) of doctors to discuss your test results and the benefits and risks of the various treatment options and which ones are most suitable for your particular situation depending upon factors such as the stage, grade and location of your cancer, whether it has spread (metastasised) to other parts of your body, and on your general age and state of health.
You may be offered a combination of any of the following treatments:
- Surgery – to remove the cancer from the bowel. Part or all of the bowel around the cancer may need to be removed, and to aid your recovery, you may need a colostomy or ileostomy, which may be temporary or permanent
- Chemotherapy – may be given after surgery to stop the cancer coming back, or if you are unable to have surgery, or if the cancer has spread to other parts of your body
- Radiotherapy – may be given if you have cancer in your rectum or the cancer has spread to other parts of your body
- Targeted medicines and immunotherapy – where the medicine kills the cancer cells or helps your immune system kill the cancer cells.
There is a stigma attached to this subject and a reluctance to talk openly – even to a GP – about our bowel health which is so vital to our quality of life. We need to educate ourselves and be able to spot the tell tail signs and symptoms early and to seek treatment early when it can be most effective.
We can all play our part to help breakdown the social stigma and raise awareness of this treatable condition – use the hashtags #BowelCancerAwarenessMonth #BowelCancer #KnowTheHigh5 to get involved – and don’t forget to check your poo!
Useful resources about bowel cancer
For more information about bowel cancer and the support that is available, go to the following websites:
Bowel cancer and medical negligence
If you think there has been a delay or medical error in diagnosing and/or treating your bowel cancer and that delay/error has had an adverse effect on your outcome, e.g. your cancer has progressed to a more advanced stage or requires more invasive treatment or the range of treatment options available is more restricted than it would have been but for that delay or you have received inappropriate/incorrect/unnecessary treatment, then it is possible that you may have a claim for compensation. Our team of experienced medical negligence solicitors can assist you and your family in determining this.
Contact our medical negligence solicitors today
Our experienced team of lawyers will be able to offer advice and guide you through every step of the claims process and our in-house rehabilitation coordinators can help to support you through your recovery.
With acknowledgement to Bowel Cancer UK
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