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Why we need to talk about bowel cancer – this month and all year round

Bowel cancer remains our second biggest cancer killer, with someone dying of bowel cancer every 30 minutes. But it doesn’t have to be this way

As we embark on Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, our focus is firmly on improving early diagnosis of the disease and increasing awareness of the red flag symptoms to look out for.

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK. Nearly 43,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with the disease every year and it remains our second biggest cancer killer, with someone dying of bowel cancer every 30 minutes. But it doesn’t have to be this way; we know the disease is treatable and curable, with most surviving bowel cancer when diagnosed at the earliest stages.

Yet early diagnosis of bowel cancer remains stubbornly low, with less than 40% of people diagnosed at stages 1 and 2. And the results of our recent YouGov survey show that nearly four in 10 adults (38%) in the UK can’t name a single symptom of the disease.

Even more concerning is that 6 in 10 people (59%) across the UK said if they experienced a change in bowel habit like diarrhoea or constipation that didn’t clear up, or saw bleeding from their bottom, they might not contact their GP. Their reasons included difficulties getting an appointment (36%), being too embarrassed (13%) or being too afraid that it could be something serious (13%).

But there is good news too. Last year figures published by NHS England showed a record number of referrals for tests that can diagnose bowel cancer. That’s in part thanks to the tireless campaigning of Dame Deborah James, and an indicator that sustained awareness raising does have a direct effect.

Now we need to keep the momentum going – Bowel Cancer Awareness Month is our biggest opportunity of the year to do that, by reaching out both to the public and to health professionals. Primary care nurses are ideally placed to talk to patients about the importance of knowing the symptoms of bowel cancer and contacting their GP if something doesn’t feel right. Bowel Cancer UK also supports primary care health professionals by providing education opportunities to increase the number of earlier diagnoses for bowel cancer. Our resources include:

● Free online learning modules and a selection of resources to support your professional development, such as an early diagnosis module, an overview of genomics in cancer care and about the Faecal Immunochemical Test.

● The National Colorectal Cancer Nurses Network , a strong and determined community working to improve the lives of people affected by bowel cancer.

● Our professional network brings together HCPs to improve the treatment, care and support for people with bowel cancer.

Dr Lisa Wilde, Director of Research and External Affairs, Bowel Cancer UK

Bowel Cancer UK is launching a new campaign to #KnowTheHigh5 symptoms of bowel cancer. Take the symptoms quiz today: