Healthy living

Bowel cancer: don't sit on your symptoms

Bowel cancer: don t sit on your symptoms Bowel Cancer Awareness Month

Bowel cancer is the UK’s second biggest killer – yet the tragic fact is that it is so easily cured.

According to the major cancer charities, the big problem is a lack of awareness. Not enough people know the symptoms so they’re missing that vital early diagnosis, while sheer embarrassment is stopping them from confiding in their fears.

The result? A new report suggests almost one in 10 bowel cancer patients die within a month of diagnosis, because their disease is so advanced. That’s an estimated 16,000 people losing their lives to the illness every year when treatment could - in the vast majority of cases - save them.

That’s why this month is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, with charity Beating Bowel Cancer among those leading the drive to spread the word about how the condition can rear its head.

Former rugby star and Strictly Come Dancing runner-up Matt Dawson is patron of the charity and has thrown his weight behind the campaign because his own family has been blighted by the illness.

“Sadly my grandfather passed away from bowel cancer when I was young and my mother was diagnosed several years ago,” he reveals.

“She fought hard and thankfully she beat the disease. With early diagnosis bowel cancer can be beaten which is why I support the work Beating Bowel Cancer does to both raise awareness of the disease and support patients like my mum.”

“Apparently there are over 140,000 people in the UK currently living with bowel cancer, and every day around 110 more patients are diagnosed.

“If all of these people, along with their friends and family, joined together it would be something really special. Help us to raise awareness of bowel cancer, support patients and their families and spread the message that bowel cancer can be beaten if we work together," Dawson said.

So what is bowel cancer and what are the key symptoms?

The disease can affect any part of the colon, rectum or anus – the three main parts of the large bowel. It usually starts as slow-growing polyps or ulcers on the inside of the bowel wall, which change over time and, if left untreated, can grow bigger and turn cancerous.

Early symptoms are very similar to other, benign problems so it is important to know what is normal for you so that you can get any unusual changes investigated straight away.

They include:

  • Bleeding from the bottom, or blood in the faeces, possibly accompanied by soreness, lumps and itchiness
  • A change in bowel habits lasting three weeks or more – e.g. constipation, feeling the bowel is not completely empty, frequent or loose stools and/or passing clear, ‘jelly’-like mucus
  • Pain or a lump in your tummy, especially on the right hand side
  • Unexplained dizziness, tiredness and breathlessness
  • Unexpected and unexplained weight loss

A poor diet, inactivity, heavy drinking and smoking can increase the risk of developing the disease.

For example, eating too much saturated fat, red meat and processed meat – such as salami, bacon or sausages - and not enough fibre, wholegrains, fruit and vegetables can make you more prone to bowel cancer.

There are screening programmes available for adults aged between 60 and 69, who will be invited to return a stool sample so it can be examined for the presence of blood.

But, for others, the central message that Beating Bowel Cancer is keen to share is: “Don’t sit on your symptoms.”

The fact is that bowel cancer diagnosed at an early stage can be treated very successfully in around 90 per cent of cases.

Beating Bowel Cancer chief executive Mark Flannagan says: “Early diagnosis of bowel cancer really does save lives so if you are worried about bowel symptoms, please visit your GP and if you are offered bowel screening, please take part.”

For information and advice see Bowel Cancer UK or Beating Bowel Cancer Call Beating Bowel Cancer helpline on 08450 719 301

This article was published on Fri 13 April 2012

Image © Beating Bowel Cancer

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