Bowel Cancer need not be a killer

22 Apr 2015 | Nicholas Leahy

Table of Contents

Early diagnosis of bowel cancer is key.

Cancer is a word that attracts stigma. Many people believe that if you are diagnosed with cancer, you are going to die. It is seen by many to be a death sentence.

Today, I heard on my local radio station the alarming news that “fewer than half of the people with bowel cancer in Essex are being diagnosed early, and there are warnings that it is putting lives at risk’. Only 45% of people with bowel cancer are diagnosed at the early stages. This is incredible.

Nearly 43,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK. More than 16,800 people die from bowel cancer in the UK every year.

Statistics reveal bowel cancer is the second-highest cancer killer, but if caught early, the survival rate can be 97%. The importance of early bowel cancer treatment cannot be stressed enough.

Statistically, the survival rate plummets to 7% if it is not caught early. The later you are diagnosed, the more difficult it is to treat. Presumably, this is due to it spreading to other organs as secondary metastasis, such as the lungs, liver or brain. Bowel cancer is identified in 10% of all cancer deaths and 13% of all cancer cases.

Therefore, any warning signs must be reported to a doctor, such as a GP. If symptoms continue, repeated visits to the GP should be made so that early referral to a specialist can be organized, hospital appointments made, and further tests or investigations carried out where there is a suspicion that cancer could be or has developed.

Often the difficulty for some people is the embarrassment of seeing a doctor and having to discuss personal information relating to abnormal bowel habits. Sometimes, the delay in bowel cancer treatment lies at the hands of the GP, who cannot see the patient, or if the GP cannot make the connection that the patient’s symptoms are indicative of cancer risk. A GP may provide false reassurance that will not encourage the patient to return for further advice at a later date. This will lead to further delay in referral to a specialist, subsequent diagnosis and possible life expectancy.

Cancer should not be a death sentence.

Cancer should not be a death sentence. 57% of bowel cancer patients who receive early treatment survive for at least ten years or more. Therefore if you report abnormal bowel symptoms to your GP and no action is taken, be sure that you attend the GP surgery again and insist that action is taken, especially if there is a family history of cancer. I have dealt with cases where opportunities for diagnosis were missed and the ramifications for the patient and their family is serious. Sometimes, it can be the difference between life and death.

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