BOWEL cancer is the fourth most common form of the disease in the UK – after breast, prostate and lung.
It's also UK's second deadliest cancer – claiming 16,000 lives a year.
Celebrities diagnosed with the disease include radio DJ and TV presenter Adele Roberts, actress and comedian Dame Julie Walters, BBC news reader George Alagiah and Lord Andrew Lansley.
The Sun's columnist Deborah James shares her journey living with bowel cancer, having been diagnosed at just 35 years old.
The Sun previously launched the No Time 2 Lose campaign to urge people to talk about their insides and their numbers twos – as often the first signs are in your poo – and has successfully got the NHS to lower its screening age from 60 to 50.
What is bowel cancer?
Bowel cancer is where the disease starts in the large intestines.
It's also referred to as colon or colorectal cancer, because it can also affect the colon and rectum.
Most bowel cancers develop from pre-cancerous growths, called polyps.
Not all will turn cancerous, but if your doctor finds any, they will tend to remove them to prevent cancer.
Is there currently a test for bowel cancer?
It's one of the deadliest forms of the disease, but it CAN be cured – if it's caught early enough.
Fewer than one in ten people survive bowel cancer if it's picked up at stage 4, but detected quickly – at stage 1 – more than nine in ten patients will live five years or longer.
There are two ways to ensure early diagnosis – screening and awareness.
In the UK, bowel cancer is one of three screening programmes, alongside breast and cervical cancers.
But, Brits are subjected to a bowel cancer screening postcode lottery.
In Scotland, screening starts at 50 – yet in England, Wales and Northern Ireland people have to wait until their 60th birthdays to be invited for screening.
That's why The Sun launched the No Time 2 Lose campaign in April 2018 – to call on the Government to lower the screening age to 50.
Experts predict the move could save around 4,500 lives every year.
In the summer of 2018, health secretary Matt Hancock announced screening in England would be lowered to 50 – marking a victory for The Sun and campaigners, including Lauren Backler, who lost her mum Fiona to the disease aged just 53.
The programme is expanding to include 56 year olds in 2021.
What are the red-flag signs of bowel cancer?
While screening is one way of ensuring early diagnosis, there are things everyone can do to reduce their risk of the deadly disease.
Being aware of the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer, spotting any changes and checking with your GP can prove a life-saver.
If you notice any of the signs, don't be embarrassed and don't ignore them. Doctors are used to seeing lots of patients with bowel problems.
The five red-flag symptoms of bowel cancer include:
- Bleeding from the back passage, or blood in your poo
- A change in your normal toilet habits – going more frequently for example
- Pain or a lump in your tummy
- Extreme tiredness
- Losing weight
Tumours in the bowel typically bleed, which can cause a shortage of red blood cells, known as anaemia. It can cause tiredness and sometimes breathlessness.
In some cases bowel cancer can block the bowel, this is known as a bowel obstruction.
Other signs of bowel cancer include:
- Gripping pains in the abdomen
- Feeling bloated
- Constipation and being unable to pass wind
- Being sick
- Feeling like you need to strain – like doing a number two – but after you've been to the loo
While these are all signs to watch out for, experts warn the most serious is noticing blood in your stools.
But, they warn it can prove tricky for doctors to diagnose the disease, because in most cases these symptoms will be a sign of a less serious disease.
When should you see a doctor?
As with any cancer, it's vital to get a diagnosis as soon as possible, for the best chance of survival.
The NHS says: "See a GP if you have any of the symptoms of bowel cancer for three weeks or more."
A number of tests are used to diagnose bowel cancer, starting with a simple examination of the bottom called a digital rectal examination. The NHS says people might find such tests embarassing and uncomfortable. But don't let this put you off getting help as soon as symptoms show.
How common is bowel cancer?
Bowel cancer is the fourth most common form of the disease in the UK, with 42,000 people diagnosed every year, according to Bowel Cancer UK.
More than 94 per cent of new cases are in people over the age of 50, while nearly 59 per cent are in the over 70s.
But bowel cancer can affect anyone, of any age with more than 2,500 cases diagnosed in people under the age of 50 each year.
There are around 268,000 people living with the disease, too.
One in 15 men and one in 18 women will develop bowel cancer in their lifetimes.
What are the risk factors of bowel cancer?
You're at greater risk of bowel cancer if you have one or more of the following risk factors:
- you're aged over 50
- you have a strong family history of the disease – eg. a parent, sibling or child diagnosed with bowel cancer before the age of 50, or two or more relatives diagnosed at any age or one or more relative with a known genetic condition linked to bowel cancer
- a history of non-cancerous growths, known as polyps, in your bowel
- long-term inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis
- type 2 diabetes
- an unhealthy lifestyle – you smoke, are overweight or obese and do not get enough exercise
Can bowel cancer be treated?
Bowel cancer is treatable and can be cured, particularly if it is diagnosed early enough.
More than nine out of 10 people with stage 1 bowel cancer – the least serious form – survive five years or longer after they are diagnosed.
However, this survival rate does drop significantly the longer a person has the disease before diagnosis.
The number of people dying from bowel cancer each year has been falling since the 1970s.
Around 15,903 people die from the disease in the UK each year – making it the most common cause of death from cancer in the country after lung cancer.
For more information visit Bowel Cancer UK.
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