Know the signs of bowel cancer – early detection saves lives

April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, and GPs in Tower Hamlets are reminding people that spotting bowel cancer early could save your life. 

Bowel cancer is one of the UK’s biggest cancer killers, but it is treatable and curable, especially if caught at the earliest stage. The risk increases with age, with almost 90 per cent of cases occurring in people aged 60 or over. 

Screening remains one of the most effective ways of spotting bowel cancer early, and the NHS Bowel Screening Programme is available to anyone over 60 who is registered with a GP and lives in north east London. 

For those aged between 60 and 74, a testing kit is sent to your home every two years to make it quick, simple and comfortable to collect a small stool sample and return it in a sealed envelope for testing. 

Anyone over the age of 75 can request a kit by calling the free bowel cancer screening helpline on 0800 707 60 60. 

However, bowel cancer can affect people of any age, therefore raising awareness of the symptoms is crucial for early diagnosis. 

Tower Hamlets Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is encouraging people to know and look out for the signs of bowel cancer, which include: 

  • Persistent blood in your stools
  • A change in bowel habit – particularly going more often, with looser stools
  • Lower abdominal (tummy) pain, bloating or discomfort
  • Feeling more tired than usual
  • Unexplained weight loss 

Experiencing these signs does not mean that you have bowel cancer, as other health problems can cause similar symptoms. However, if they persist, or things don’t feel right, make an appointment with your GP. Further information is available from NHS Choices, including an NHS bowel cancer symptom checker

In Tower Hamlets, the number of people taking advantage of free bowel screening is around 40%, which is lower than the national average of 58.5%. 

Sir Sam Everington, a local GP and chair of NHS Tower Hamlets Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said: “Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in the UK, but it can be treated in the vast majority of cases, if caught early enough. 

“The sooner it’s diagnosed, the greater the likelihood of survival. It’s essential that people are able to spot the signs and symptoms and, if things don’t feel right, book an appointment with their GP. 

“Bowel cancer can affect anyone, any age; but we know that the risk increases as people get older. That’s why we encourage those aged 60 or over to take part in the NHS screening programme – it’s free and could save your life.” 

Dr Somen Banerjee, Director of Tower Hamlets Public Health said: “People don’t always know about the life saving benefits of screening yet this little kit can save your life. Spotting cancer early saves lives, because treatment can be offered quickly and is often less complicated.  More than 9 in 10 bowel cancer patients will survive the disease for more than five years if diagnosed at the earliest stage.” 

The exact causes of bowel cancer are unknown, but there are a number of things that can increase the risk, including: 

  • Age
  • A diet high in red or processed meats
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Inactivity/lack of exercise
  • High alcohol consumption and smoking
  • A family history of developing bowel cancer – this should be discussed with your GP
  • Other conditions such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease 

You can reduce your risk of developing bowel cancer by making lifestyle changes such as eating a low-fat, high-fibre diet, including fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains, cutting down on red and processed meat and increasing physical activity.