Early Diagnosis is Key to Bowel Cancer Survival
Wednesday 21 March 2018
Early diagnosis key to bowel cancer survival
Bowel cancer is one of the most treatable forms of cancer, and yet it is the UK’s second biggest cancer killer. This is because in many cases the disease is not being diagnosed early enough – and it is why the country’s bowel cancer charities are joining forces to increase awareness during Bowel Cancer Awareness Month in April.
Bowel cancer (also known as colorectal cancer) is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, but it is also the second most common cause of cancer death, with around 8,000 deaths a year. It is most common in people over the age of 50, but can affect anyone.
If it is diagnosed at an early stage, there are highly successful treatments available for bowel cancer. In fact, the vast majority of people are treated successfully if they are diagnosed early. However, over half of bowel cancer cases are diagnosed at a late stage, and many are diagnosed when someone ends up in an accident and emergency department.
When diagnosed at stage one (the earliest stage), 97% of people survive for five years or more. At stage four (the latest stage), only 7% of people survive for five years or more. In the later stages of the disease, it becomes a lot harder to treat bowel cancer.
Symptoms to watch out for
So what can be done to ensure people are diagnosed early? One of the problems with diagnosis is that many of the early symptoms of the disease are similar to other, less serious bowel problems. For example, blood in your poo could be a sign of haemorrhoids (piles), but is also a symptom of bowel cancer.
Experts advise that you see your doctor immediately if you notice blood in your poo. Other symptoms include a pain or a lump in the tummy, feeling extremely tired for no reason, persistent and unexplained changes in bowel habits, and losing weight for no obvious reason.
Another reason for the late diagnosis of bowel cancer is that its existence can be masked by someone having another health condition.
A study by the University of Exeter found that if someone has inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), this can delay a diagnosis of bowel cancer by 26 days. Conditions such as IBD can mask what would otherwise have been flagged as possible signs of bowel cancer.
One of the best ways of detecting bowel cancer is through the use of a screening kit. People in England who are aged between 60 and 74 are sent a bowel screening home testing kit every two years. These can help detect bowel cancer even before any symptoms arise.
If the test brings up an abnormal result, you will be sent for another test – a colonoscopy, to confirm whether or not the result is anything to worry about.
There are ways in which people can reduce their risk of getting bowel cancer, including eating healthily, stopping smoking, drinking less alcohol and being more active.
A recent study published in the British Journal of Cancer found that binge-watching TV for more than four hours in one day could increase the risk of bowel cancer in men. The explanation behind this is thought to be that watching TV can be associated with other behaviours such as drinking and snacking more, and that being sedentary is associated with weight gain.
A recent Cancer Research campaign has highlighted that obesity is the second most common avoidable cause of cancer.
During Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, Bowel Cancer UK and Beating Bowel Cancer are raising awareness of the disease and the importance of early diagnosis to survival.