Bowel Cancer Awareness Month 2023

5th April 2023

April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month. If caught in the early stages, there is a greater than 90% chance of a cure.

What is Bowel Cancer?

Bowel cancer develops from polyps (a tiny bump of cells inside the bowel). Most polyps remain benign (not cancerous), but about 1 in 10 will turn to cancer.

Throughout our lives, the lining of the bowel constantly renews itself. This lining contains many millions of tiny cells, which grow, serve their purpose and then new cells take their place. Each one of these millions of cells contains genes that give instructions to the cell on how to behave. When genes behave in a faulty manner, this can cause the cells to grow too quickly, which eventually leads to the formation of a growth that is known as a polyp. This can be the first step on the road towards cancer.

What are the symptoms of bowel cancer?

The most common symptoms of bowel cancer are:

  • Bleeding from the bowel.
  • Change in bowel habits (such as unusual episodes of diarrhoea or constipation).
  • Abdominal pain or weight loss.

Some of these symptoms mimic those of other digestive conditions. However, a new, prolonged change in bowel habit lasting 4 weeks or more should always be discussed with your doctor. If you have a family history of bowel cancer, mention this to your doctor too.

What is bowel cancer screening?

Polyps may bleed, so one of the screening methods involves testing the stools chemically for traces of blood.

The test is called the faecal immunochemical test (FIT). FIT can pick up hidden blood in the poo that is not visible to the naked eye. The results of this test can aid any potential diagnosis or decision about referral to a specialist.

This test is not a direct test for bowel cancer but may indicate that polyps are more likely to be found in the large bowel.

Who is contacted for this screening?

Mass screening of the population for bowel cancer is available via the FIT test in the UK and is currently following this format:

  • In England anyone aged 56 to 74 who are registered with a GP are automatically sent a bowel screening test every 2 years.
  • In Scotland screening starts at age 50 to 74.
  • In Wales the age range is 58 to 74.
  • In Northern Ireland the age range is 60 to 69.

9 out of 10 people diagnosed with bowel cancer are over the age of 60. However, it is important if you are under 60 but you are experiencing the symptoms of bowel cancer that your GP tests you for bowel cancer too.

If you have noticed a change in your bowel habits, please contact your doctor. You can also check out our Poo-Torial. 

Guts UK's bowel cancer research

Picture of Professor Colin ReesGuts UK is proud to support Professor Colin Rees and his team at Newcastle, the ‘COLO-COHORT’ study. This study aims to develop a tool to determine the groups of people who are at higher risk of developing bowel cancer, or polyps in the bowel that may lead to bowel cancer.

Screening programmes are in place for bowel cancer in the UK, but they only consider age, and don’t consider other factors that may increase your likelihood of developing bowel cancer, like lifestyle or family history. 113 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in the UK every day, and 44 people die. If caught early enough, bowel cancer is one of the more treatable and preventable cancers.

Prof. Rees and his team are collecting data from 10,000 people with the aim to develop a ‘risk stratification tool’. This tool will aim to determine which patients are at highest risk of developing bowel cancer or having polyps in the bowel. If successful, this research could lead to a more accurate bowel cancer screening programme in the UK, with less unnecessary colonoscopies and most importantly, save lives by diagnosing bowel cancer early.

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