Thursday 2nd May 2013

Cancer cluelessness rife in the Westcountry

As we reach the end of April, National Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, a new study from local charity Bowel Cancer West reveals a shockingly low level of knowledge of one of the UK’s biggest cancer killers.

The charity polled 1,000 Westcountry adults and found that a staggering 93% say their awareness of the symptoms of bowel cancer are, at best, ‘average’ – and 40% confessed their knowledge was ‘poor’. More than half (52%) of adults in the region simply ‘don’t know’ if they are even eligible for the national screening programme.

Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer related death in the UK – effectively killing someone every 30 minutes. Indeed the research found that four out of 10 (40%) people in the Westcountry have been touched by bowel cancer to some extent; many having seen a loved one suffer, and some with firsthand experience of fighting the disease themselves.

Mark Coleman, Director of Bowel Cancer West wants everyone to consider themselves and their loved ones as National Bowel Cancer Awareness Month draws to an end: “If you notice any symptoms – such as blood in your poo or an unexplained change in bowel habit – make an appointment to see your GP. A referral or investigation may be required. It is not worth ignoring the problem or delaying seeking help – you simply cannot take your chances where bowel cancer is concerned.”

The Signs to Spot for Survival:

Bowel cancer is treatable if caught at an early stage. Yet the research revealed embarrassment could potentially thwart an early diagnosis. A third of Westcountry adults (33%) said they would be uncomfortable about talking to their GP about their bowel movements, and would prefer not to. Alarmingly, one in 10 (11%) confessed they would actively avoid seeing their GP due to the embarrassment.

National figures indicate only 9% of bowel cancer patients are diagnosed at the earliest stage of the disease, the point with the highest survival rate. However, the Bowel Cancer West research found more than a third of people (35%) “wait a while” before seeing their GP to see if their symptoms clear. One in seven (14%) wait more than a month. Self diagnosis via the Internet, use of homemade remedies, and a desire not to bother the doctor are reasons cited for not visiting the GP. Just 17% of Westcountry would contact their doctor upon seeing an unusual or persistent change to their body or health.

A major indicator of bowel cancer is blood in a bowel movement and, encouragingly, almost two thirds of respondents (63%) said they would visit their GP if they experienced this. However, other possible symptoms are being overlooked by many. According to the survey, people would be more inclined to visit their doctor about a rash than if they experienced weight loss and loose bowel movements.

Being Bowel Cancer Aware:

Potential symptoms to be aware of:

  • Bleeding from the bottom or rectal bleeding
  • Change in your bowel habit – including constipation or diarrhoea
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Other symptoms include bloating, weight loss, anaemia and mucus (slime) from the bottom

Bowel Cancer Screening:

The NHS National Bowel Cancer Screening Programme aims to detect bowel cancer and polyps at an early stage before symptoms develop. An invitation is sent to those in their 60s for the test. For more information go to or call the helpline on 0800 707 60 60.

Reducing the Risk:

  • Diet
    • Research suggests a low-fat diet, with at least 18 grams of fibre, that includes plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (at least five portions a day) and wholegrains can help reduce your risk of getting bowel cancer. It can also reduce your risk of developing other types of cancer and heart disease
    • It is recommended you do not eat a lot of processed meat and red meat. The Department of Health advises people who eat more than 90 grams (cooked weight) of red and processed meat a day to cut down to 70 grams
  • Exercise
    • There is strong evidence to suggest regular exercise can lower the risk of developing bowel and other cancers
    • It is recommended adults exercise for at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e. cycling or fast walking) every week
  • Healthy weight
    • Try to maintain a healthy weight. Changes to your diet and an increase in physical activities will help keep your weight under control
  • Smoking
    • If you smoke, giving up will reduce your risk of developing bowel and other cancers.
    • The free NHS Smoking Helpline can offer advice and encouragement to help you quit smoking. Call 0800 0224332 or visit
    • Your GP or pharmacist can also provide help, support and advice if you want to give up smoking

Please contact Laura Langsford on 01752 439845 for more information on how bowel cancer is being dealt with in the South West or to get involved in fundraising efforts to help tackle this disease.

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