Act now to cut the risk of bowel cancer
Bowel Cancer Question: What is the risk of bowel cancer in the UK and how can you reduce your chances of getting it? Answer: Take up screening offers, learn the symptoms and if you are suspicious act immediately.
Bowel cancer is the UK's second biggest cancer killer, accounting for 16,000 deaths annually. It kills around half of those diagnosed with it, but the shocking truth is that if diagnosed early, nine out of ten patients survive for at least five years. Diagnosed later, it is only one in ten.
"Caught early bowel cancer is very treatable," says Nick Bason of the charity Bowel Cancer UK. "Don't let squeamishness stop you seeing a doctor about symptoms or using the NHS screening tests that are sent to over 60s in England and Wales and over 50s in Scotland."
The screening kit detects blood in the stool before it is otherwise detectable. People diagnosed as a result of the screening have a 98 per cent chance of surviving at least a year.
A positive result from the screening does not definitely indicate cancer but a negative result rules it out almost completely. Positive results require further tests, such as colonoscopies to detect the polyps that may be an early sign of bowel cancer, before a definitive diagnosis can be made.
Symptoms to look out for include blood in the stool, changes in bowel habits that last three weeks or more, unexplained weight loss or extreme tiredness, and a pain or lump in the stomach. "If you sense something different for more than a short period, visit your doctor," says Bason.
The risk of bowel cancer rises with age, but around 2,100 people under 50s are diagnosed in the UK annually. The Never Too Young campaign aims to increase awareness of bowel cancer in younger people, who find it often takes longer to get a diagnosis.
The risks are higher than average for people with close relatives who have had bowel cancer and people that have had inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) for over ten years. People with the genes for Lynch Syndrome are also at higher risk of developing bowel cancer at a younger age than usual and should be offered regular surveillance screening.
Good lifestyle habits help reduce your risk. Bason suggests you cut down on red and processed meats, get enough fibre, maintain a healthy weight, stop smoking, eat five portions of fruit and vegetables daily, take exercise and stick to recommended levels of alcohol intake.