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Raising awareness of bowel cancer

National Cancer Survivors Day takes place in early June, raising awareness for cancer and celebrating survivors. It’s a day of strength and hope for those who are newly diagnosed and surviving cancer, providing support for people and their families affected by cancer.

The event is run by the National Cancers Survivors Day Foundation, an organisation dedicated to supporting survivors and improving their quality of life by providing advice, information and education to hospitals, cancer units and support groups.

A survivor is anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer has survived, but even survivors have lasting effects on their lives left by the cancer, and this can affect them and their family in numerous ways.

Raising awareness for cancer survivors

Spreading awareness starts with talking about cancer and talking about our bowels. Getting the message out there to promote health, make sure people are aware of symptoms, and they take up bowel screening which is offered here in the UK.

Bowel cancer is treatable and curable, especially if diagnosed early. Nearly everyone survives bowel cancer if diagnosed at the earliest stage. However, this drops significantly as the disease develops – early diagnosis really does save lives!

So here is some information to keep you fully informed with what is currently happening around the area of bowel cancer…

What is bowel cancer?

Bowel cancer refers to cancer that starts in the large bowel (colon) and the back passage (rectum). It is also known as colorectal cancer.  The bowel is divided into two sections: the small bowel and the large bowel. The large bowel includes the colon, the rectum and the bowel opening (anus).

Changes within bowel cancer screening

Bowel cancer screening is one of the best ways to diagnose bowel cancer. It aims to detect bowel cancer at an early stage (in people with no symptoms) when treatment is most effective and curable.

Bowel screening was previously offered to men and women aged 50-74 to help find bowel cancer early, when it can be cured.

From April 2021, it has now expanded, making it available to everyone aged 50-59 years. This campaign has been extremely successful and was directly responsible for an additional 93,000 test kit returns. This means 860 bowel cancer cases were prevented, with 470 lives being saved over the next 50 years.

It involves taking a simple test at home every two years. The test looks for hidden blood in your poo, as this could signify a higher chance of bowel cancer.

This home test kit is called a faecal immunochemical test (FIT). The person collects a small sample of poo and sends it to the lab.

It is important to always see your GP if you have any symptoms of bowel cancer at any age, even if you have recently completed a bowel cancer screening test.

What are the symptoms of bowel cancer?

  • Blood in your stools
  • Changes in bowel habits, such as pooing more often than usual or a different consistency
  • Pain in your tummy or abdominal pain, which persists for more than a few days

Will I need a stoma if I have bowel cancer?

Most bowel cancers are found in the large bowel (colon). If you are diagnosed will bowel cancer, you will likely have surgery and a colostomy (stoma) formed, stomas may be temporary or permanent.

A surgeon may make a temporary stoma to allow the bowel to heal after surgery. Only a small number of people with colon cancer need a permanent stoma. If you have rectal cancer, you need a permanent stoma if the cancer is very low in your rectum and close to the anus.

If you have a temporary stoma, you will usually have a second smaller operation a few months later to close the stoma and re-join the bowel. This operation is called a stoma reversal.

Bowel cancer research

Bowel cancer research looks at the causes, diagnosis and treatment of bowel cancer. Its aims are to prevent bowel cancer and improve tests, treatment and ways of coping with symptoms and side effects.

Cancer Research UK are constantly researching new areas of development and treatment options for bowel (colorectal) cancer. They run clinical trials and studies to advance treatment option for cancer patients.

For more information, read more on Cancer Research UK’s current research into bowel cancer.

Highlighting the importance of checking your poo!

Campaigner and podcaster Dame Deborah James (aka Bowel Babe) shared her story with the world over the last few years. As a result, she broke down barriers surrounding bowel cancer and was incredibly vocal about the importance of “checking your pooh”.

She was hugely empowering for people to seek help if they notice any changes in their body which was not normal for them. As a result, the health service announced the number checking bowel cancer symptoms on the NHS website increased tenfold after her death last year.

Let’s continue her legacy… and throw away the stigma surrounding bowels. Let’s feel comfortable talking about them as we would about any part of our bodies!

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