Health & Safety

article icon

Bowel Cancer Awareness

19 April 2015

Bowel cancer is the UK's second biggest cancer killer but it shouldn't be. It is very treatable, particularly when diagnosed early. The big problem is that awareness is too low. Bowel Cancer UK is asking for help to change that.

bowel cancer information leaflets

Bowel Cancer UK

For over 25 years the Charity has been saving lives by raising awareness of bowel cancer, campaigning for best treatment and care and providing practical support and advice. As a charitable organisation, they are almost completely dependent on voluntary donations.

You can watch a short video about what they do and how they aim to save lives from bowel cancer:

Bowel Cancer Statistics

  • 42,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year.
  • 16,000 people die from bowel cancer in the UK each year.
  • 57% of adult bowel cancer patients diagnosed are predicted to survive ten or more years.
  • 54% of bowel cancer cases each year in the UK are linked to major lifestyle and other risk factors.

Early diagnosis of Bowel Cancer and UK Survival Rates

Bowel cancer survival rates in the UK lag behind the rest of Europe, mainly because people are unaware of the symptoms of bowel cancer, or are uncomfortable talking about them, so are diagnosed late. Each year, thousands die unnecessarily.

Bowel Cancer UK saves lives by raising awareness, campaigning for best treatment and care and providing practical support and advice. Every year Bowel Cancer UK takes their messages to half a million people in all four countries of the UK. In April 2014, the charity distributed over 123,000 pieces of information.

What is Bowel Cancer?

Bowel cancer is also referred to as colorectal or colon cancer. Nearly all bowel cancers develop in the large bowel - two-thirds of these are in the colon and one-third in the rectum.

Symptoms of Bowel Cancer

The symptoms of bowel (colorectal) cancer can be:

  • Bleeding from your bottom and/or blood in your poo,
  • A change in bowel habit lasting for 3 weeks or more especially to looser or runny poo,
  • Unexplained weight loss,
  • Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason,
  • A pain or lump in your tummy.

You might experience one, some, all of the above or no symptoms at all. Remember most symptoms will not be bowel cancer.

Causes and Risks

Although the exact cause of bowel cancer is unknown, there are certain factors that may increase your risk.

  • Gender and age - Bowel cancer affects both men and women. In the UK, around 95% of cases occur in people over the age of 50.
  • Family history - People with a first degree relative (such as mother, father, brother, sister, child) under 45 or with two or more first degree relatives with bowel cancer may be considered for further testing.
  • Diet and lifestyle - An inactive lifestyle and a poor diet that is low in fresh fruit and vegetables may increase the risk of bowel cancer. A high intake of red and processed meat, smoking and excess alcohol may increase the risk.
  • Other conditions - People with diabetes, a history of Crohn's disease in the large bowel, or ulcerative colitis, or who have had previous polyps removed, may also be at an increased risk.

Minimising Risk - Diet and Exercise

By taking some simple steps to improve your diet and taking regular exercise can help reduce your risk of bowel cancer. So it is important to:

  • Consider what you are eating. Eat plenty of Fibre. Eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Avoid processed Meats and have no more than 500g of red meat per week.
  • Keep Active with regular exercise.
  • Keep hydrated and avoid drinks containing caffeine
  • Know your alcohol limits and don't smoke.
  • Know the symptoms of Bowel Cancer and act on them if you have any concerns.
  • Take part in the Bowel Cancer Screening Programme in your area when you are invited. This involves completing a simple test which can help identify whether further investigation is necessary.

Bowel Cancer Screening

Regular bowel cancer screening has been shown to reduce deaths from bowel cancer. Some people with bowel cancer have the disease, or are at risk of it developing, before any symptoms appear. The screening programme is designed to find those people and treat them more effectively. The test is not compulsory but Bowel Cancer UK strongly advise that everyone who is invited takes part. The earlier bowel cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat.

You are eligible for screening if you are you are registered with a GP and aged:

  • 60-74 in England
  • 60-74 in Wales
  • 60-74 in Northern Ireland
  • 50-74 in Scotland

If you are worried about any symptoms that you think might be caused by bowel cancer, make an appointment with your doctor or call one of the support services below.

You won't be wasting anyone's time by getting checked out. If it isn't serious, you'll put your mind at rest. If it's bowel cancer, early detection can make all the difference. Over 90% who are diagnosed at the earliest stage are successfully treated. So a trip to your doctor could save your life.