30th April 2019

April is Bowel Cancer
Awareness Month, 2019

Bowel Cancer Awareness Month is driven by a number of charitable organisations including Beating Bowel Cancer and Bowel Cancer UK, who have now merged with the aim of ‘ensuring that there would be no victim of Bowel Cancer by 2050.’1

Bowel cancer, also called colorectal cancer, affects the large bowel which includes the colon and rectum. It usually develops from pre-cancerous polyps, so if you are found to have polyps they are removed to prevent them becoming cancerous.2

Despite preventive measures, bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, with almost 42,000 people diagnosed in the UK every year. Although bowel cancer can occur at any time of life, age is a big risk factor with the vast majority (94%) of cases being diagnosed in people over 50 years old and 59% of cases in people over 70. Other risk factors have also been identified:2

• A strong family history of bowel cancer 

• A history of non-cancerous polyps in your bowel

• Longstanding inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis)

• Type 2 diabetes

• An unhealthy lifestyle

While many of these factors are beyond our control, there are lifestyle choices we can all make to reduce our risk of bowel cancer. These include eating lots of high-fibre foods such as wholegrains, pulses, fruit, and vegetables; avoiding processed meat and limiting consumption of red meat; being more physically active (just walking more can be a big help); limiting alcohol to recommended limits (no more than 14 units/week spread across the week); and not smoking.2  

The good news is that bowel cancer is treatable, and nearly everyone survives it if it is diagnosed at the earliest stage. If the disease is not diagnosed until the later stages, survival rates are not so high. More than 16,000 people die from bowel cancer every year in the UK - the second highest death rate of all cancers. This means that it’s really important that symptoms are recognized and not ignored. If you have any of the following symptoms, go and get yourself checked out, and don’t be put off by embarrassment:2

• Bleeding from your bottom and/or blood in your stools

• A persistent and unexplained change in bowel habit - blockages from cancer sometimes cause constipation 

• Unexplained weight loss

• Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason

• A pain or lump in your abdomen

Earlier diagnosis and better treatments mean that death rates from bowel cancer are falling. But we need to raise awareness so people know what symptoms to look for so they can seek medical advice and catch it at an early stage. Bowel Cancer Awareness Month is a great opportunity to not only raise awareness of bowel cancer but also to raise funds for charity and research work. Bowel Cancer UK1 are marking Bowel Cancer Awareness Month by ‘shining a light on the varied and many people affected by bowel cancer’, because ‘it doesn’t just impact the person diagnosed. It affects families, friends and colleagues, doctors and nurses, scientists and researchers.’ 

To see how you can make a donation, raise money, or get involved in Bowel Cancer Awareness Month in other ways, visit https://www.bowelcanceruk.org.uk/support-us/bowel-cancer-awareness-month/ 

References

1. Awareness Days: Bowel Cancer Awareness Month. Available at: https://www.awarenessdays.com/awareness-days-calendar/bowel-cancer-awareness-month-2019/ Last accessed: April 2019.

2. Bowel Cancer UK. Available at: https://www.bowelcanceruk.org.uk/. Last accessed: April 2019.