Home » Digestive Wellness » COVID-19 has had far-reaching consequences for bowel cancer
Digestive Health 2020

COVID-19 has had far-reaching consequences for bowel cancer

iStock / Getty Images Plus / Andrii Zastrozhnov

Genevieve Edwards

Chief Executive, Bowel Cancer UK

The coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on bowel cancer services, with screening, diagnosis and treatment delayed. It is more important than ever that people with symptoms visit their GP.


Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, with around 268,000 people currently living with the disease. Someone is diagnosed every 15 minutes. Sadly, around 16,000 people die from the disease each year, making it the second biggest cancer killer. However, this shouldn’t be the case as it’s treatable and curable, especially if diagnosed early, when treatment has a much higher chance of success. 

Screening and other tests were paused for some months at the height of the pandemic, leading to delays in diagnosis. Many people have also seen their treatment or surgery postponed or cancelled. 

Years of life will be lost 

We are incredibly concerned about years of life being lost to the disease because of this disruption to cancer services. A recent report from the Institute for Public Policy Research found people with the disease are facing poorer outcomes, after essential screening and diagnostic services were reduced by up to 70%, and treatment fell by 40%. As a result, it’s estimated that five-year survival rates for patients diagnosed with bowel cancer this year are set to return to those seen a decade ago.

We cannot say this strongly enough: if you have any symptoms of bowel cancer, please don’t put off contacting your GP.

NHS staff are working flat out to restore cancer services to pre-COVID-19 levels, and we are grateful for everything they do. But pressures on the NHS continue, particularly with the current wave of COVID-19 we are experiencing. The NHS needs to be supported with a fully funded action plan which clearly outlines how the backlog will be addressed.

Visit your GP if you have bowel cancer symptoms 

Although people may be waiting longer to see a specialist for suspected cancer, we cannot say this strongly enough: if you have any symptoms of bowel cancer, please don’t put off contacting your GP.  

We’re worried people are staying away from their doctor because they don’t want to burden the NHS or are worried about catching coronavirus. While it’s probably nothing serious, your symptoms could be a sign of something that needs treatment. If it is cancer, finding it early could save your life. Please don’t wait another day. 

Symptoms of bowel cancer can include bleeding from your bottom and/or blood in your poo, a persistent and unexplained change in bowel habit, unexplained weight loss, extreme tiredness for no obvious reason and a pain or lump in your tummy.  

For more information visit bowelcanceruk.org.uk 

Next article