Recently, a colleague’s husband completed the bowel screening test when it arrived on his doormat not so long ago.  A positive result saw him referred into the NHS system, with his local hospital offering a faultless treatment plan from start to finish.  Yes, he did have bowel cancer - It is unlikely that he would have known about this until the disease was a lot further progressed had he not undertaken the screening – following successful surgery he has made an excellent recovery and will simply remain on the colorectal teams ‘radar’ for follow ups over the next 5 years.

  • In some areas of the UK only a third of those who receive the test in the post complete it.  Thousands of people are missing out on the best way to detect bowel cancer early. Bowel cancer is the UK’s second biggest cancer killer however it shouldn’t be because it is treatable and curable especially if diagnosed early. Nearly everyone diagnosed at the earliest stage will survive bowel cancer but this drops significantly as the disease develops.  Most people with bowel cancer are diagnosed when they are over the age of 50, but more than 2,400 people under 50 are diagnosed each year in the UK. While this is only around five per cent of those diagnosed, this number is slowly increasing. Bowel cancer UK suggest that younger bowel cancer patients have a very different experience of diagnosis, treatment and care.  As a result of this they launched the ‘Never Too Young’ campaign in 2013.

Signs and Symptoms

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

What increases your risk?

  • Although the exact cause of bowel cancer is unknown, there are certain factors that may increase your risk.
  • You are more at risk over the age of 50 – 95% of cases occur in the over 50’s
  • You have a significant family history of bowel cancer. People with a first degree relative (mother, father, brother, sister, child) under 45 or with two or more first degree relatives with bowel cancer may be considered for further testing
  • You have polyps in your bowel - Polyps are like small spots or cherries on stalks and most do not produce symptoms. Polyps can lead to bowel cancer if left untreated.
  • You have longstanding inflammatory bowel disease e.g. Crohns disease or colitis
  • You have type 2 diabetes

What reduces your risk?

Scientists believe that around half of all bowel cancers could be prevented by having healthier lifestyles. 

  • Keeping a healthy weight and exercising regularly
  • Stop smoking
  • Cut down on red and processed meats
  • Eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day
  • Consume no more than 14 units of alcohol per week for women, 21 units for men
  • Take part in bowel screening when invited

More information on all of the above can be found on the Bowel Cancer UK website - a key part of their work is educating patients, the public and healthcare professionals about bowel cancer by providing expert information and training.  They will give a free 30 minute talk to private, public and voluntary sectors and this is an ideal way to raise awareness.   


Alison Lambert is an Occupational Health Nurse at Workfit

Knowledge Bank