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Health Matters: Bowel Cancer Awareness Month 2019

Health Matters: Bowel Cancer Awareness Month 2019
23 April 2019

Dr Mike Clark, Cancer Lead at NHS Eastern Cheshire CCG and GP with High Street Surgery, Macclesfield

Every 15 minutes someone is diagnosed with bowel cancer and it’s the UK’s second biggest cancer killer but it doesn’t need to be.

April is bowel cancer awareness month, a month in which we raise awareness of symptoms of the disease, encourage people to take up the offer of NHS screening and choose a healthier lifestyle to reduce their risk of developing it in the first place.

It's not known exactly what causes bowel cancer, but there are a number of things that increase your risk, including age and family history, with around half of all bowel cancers being caused by people living unhealthy lifestyles.

The main ways you can reduce your risk are by improving your diet, reducing intake of red and processed meat and increasing fibre, being more physically active and losing weight, quitting smoking and reducing your alcohol consumption.

Bowel cancer is treatable and curable especially if diagnosed early. Nearly everyone survives bowel cancer if diagnosed at the earliest stage (95-100 per cent of people). However, this drops significantly as the disease develops, with only five per cent of people with the most advanced stage surviving five years after diagnosis.

Early diagnosis really does save lives, and that’s why it’s so important to take the opportunity to get screened when invited by your GP. Screening can detect the cancer when you aren’t displaying any other symptoms and can detect polyps (non-cancerous growths) which can be removed to lower your risk of bowel cancer.

Being aware of the key symptoms and talking with your GP (online, over the phone or face to face) if things don’t feel right can also help increase chances of an early diagnosis.

The symptoms of bowel cancer can include:

  • Bleeding from your bottom and/or blood in your poo, or a pain in your bottom and constant desire to poo
  • A persistent and unexplained change in bowel habit
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme tiredness and breathlessness for no obvious reason
  • A pain or lump in your tummy

The majority of people with these symptoms don’t have bowel cancer, as other health problems can cause similar symptoms. If you have one or more of these, or if things just don’t feel right, then chat to your GP.

Bowel Cancer UK has lots of resources available on their website including expert information and support for those affected by the disease, which can be found at bowelcanceruk.org.uk.