The Government have launched a campaign to raise awareness of the symptoms of bowel cancer.
The first campaign of its type in England – Be Clear on Cancer – says people should not “flush away” their toilet worries. It urges anyone who has blood in their stools or loose stools for more than three weeks to see their GP as soon as possible.
Bowel cancer affects 33,000 people every year in England and leads to 13,000 deaths, with most cases occurring in people over the age of 55.
If spotted early, it is often treatable, with more than 90% of people diagnosed at an early stage surviving for at least five years. However, this figure drops to just 6% if people are diagnosed at a late stage.
The Government believes an extra 1,700 lives could be saved every year if England’s bowel cancer survival rates matched the best in Europe.
Other symptoms of bowel cancer can include a pain or lump in the abdomen, feeling more tired than usual and over a period of time, and unexplained weight loss.
In December, Professor Sir Mike Richards, the Government’s national clinical director for cancer, wrote to NHS trusts telling them to prepare for an increase in referrals as a result of the campaign. Government figures suggest it could lead to an extra 15,000 referrals for colonoscopies across England.
A colonoscopy involves using a camera to examine the lining of the bowel to assess any changes that may suggest cancer. An average-sized NHS trust can expect to see an extra 100 colonscopies as a result of the campaign.
According to Cancer.net black people have the highest rates of sporadic (non-hereditary) colorectal cancer in the United States, and colon cancer is a leading cause of cancer-related deaths among black people. Black women are more likely to die from colorectal cancer than women from any other racial group, and black men are even more likely to die from colorectal cancer than black women. The reasons for these differences are unclear. Noting that black people are more likely to be diagnosed with colon cancer at a younger age, the American College of Gastroenterology suggests that black people begin screening with colonoscopies at age 45. Earlier screening may find changes in the colon at a more treatable stage.
When the campaign was piloted in the South West and east of England last year, GPs saw the number of people over the age of 50 coming in with relevant symptoms increase by 48%. This is about one extra patient per GP practice per week.
Care Services Minister Paul Burstow said: “No one likes talking about their poo – it’s embarrassing. But bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer so we need to get over the embarrassment and talk to someone about it. The Be Clear on Cancer campaign uses simple messages to make people aware of the key symptoms of bowel cancer and to give them the confidence to talk to their GP if they notice the symptoms. No matter how embarrassing it is, talking to your GP can help save your life.”