Did you know that bowel cancer – also known as colorectal cancer– is the fourth most common cancer in the UK behind breast, prostate and lung cancer? And that over half of all cases are preventable? Yet despite routine screening in the UK, huge numbers of adults are not taking a simple test that could detect bowel cancer in its early stages – and save your life. That’s why this month, to mark colorectal cancer awareness month, celebrities and health experts are reminding people to test your poo as soon as you’re eligible. Here’s why it’s so important …
- Catching it early saves lives
As with so many cancers, early detection of bowel cancer increases your chance of survival. That’s why if you’re aged between 60-74 in England and Northern Ireland (over 50 in Scotland or over 58 in Wales) you’ll automatically be sent a FIT kit (a faecal immunochemical test) in the post every 2 years. That way, from the comfort of your own home you can do a quick and simple test that just needs a tiny stool sample to be sent back in the post to be analysed.
- 1 in 3 won’t return their kit
A new NHS campaign featuring Alan Titchmarsh reveals 1 in 3 adults sent a routine bowel cancer FIT kit doesn’t return their test. Whether that’s because of embarrassment or fear, Alan along with health experts are urging people to ‘put it by the loo, don’t put it off.’
‘In other words, do the test straight away, or as soon as you next do a poo, take a tiny sample, follow the instructions and send it back before you have time to forget about it or change your mind,’ says Dr Kenny.
The NHS FIT kit is completely free and takes minutes to do. Once you’ve done it the first time, the next one in a couple of years will be a doddle.
- Your next poo could save your life
If you’re eligible for a bowel cancer FIT kit, your next poo could literally save your life. Taking the test alone reduces your risk of dying from bowel cancer by 25% (source: Gov.uk). And for 98% of people taking the test, it’ll come back saying ‘no further tests needed’ which offers huge peace of mind. Of course, it’s still sensible to see your doctor if you notice any unusual symptoms – more on these below …
- You can’t always see tell-tale symptoms
Even if you’re too young to receive a FIT kit in the post, it’s a good idea to have the tell-tale symptoms of bowel cancer on your radar.
- blood in your poo (faeces)
- looser poo, pooing more often and/or constipation
- a pain or lump in your abdomen (tummy)
- feeling more tired than usual for some time
- losing weight for no obvious reason
Always talk to your doctor about any of these concerns whatever age you are when they happen.
However, even if you don’t have any of these symptoms and think your poo looks ‘normal’, you should still do your FIT test when you receive one.
‘These tests can detect traces of blood that aren’t visible to the eye, so while it’s important to be aware of symptoms you can see, there are also some you can’t,’ says Dr Kenny.
- Results come back quickly
FIT results usually come back within 2 weeks so you won’t have to wait too long. If yours does come back saying ‘further tests needed‘ don’t panic – it doesn’t mean you have bowel cancer. However, it does mean that blood has been detected, so doctors will want to do a procedure called a colonoscopy to help find the source of any bleeding by looking at your bowel in more detail. If further tests do reveal you have bowel cancer you’ll be guided through treatment options by your doctor and specialist.
- Because Dame Deborah asked us to
In June 2022, Dame Deborah James aka ‘Bowel Babe’ lost her fight to terminal bowel cancer. She documented her journey between being diagnosed at the age of 35 and her death at the age of 40. Raising millions for bowel cancer charity, Bowel Cancer UK, her legacy was to raise awareness of the disease telling everyone to ‘check your poo’ and get any unusual symptoms checked out. Above all she wanted to take away the embarrassment and for anyone diagnosed with bowel cancer to find it early enough to get treated – something that wasn’t possible for her.
So for Deborah, for you and your loved ones, when the test comes through your door, take it, send it off and forget about it for a couple of years, hopefully. And if you notice any symptoms before you’re eligible for a FIT test, don’t ignore them.
If you’re worried about bowel cancer symptoms and want to talk to a doctor today, download the ZoomDoc app and make an appointment with a GP from the comfort of your own home.