Bowel Cancer Awareness Month - April


This month is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month. This coincides with Bowel Cancer UK’s newly launched campaign to raise awareness of bowel cancer in young people. The charity states that 2,100 people under 50 are diagnosed with bowel cancer in the UK, and 21 of those are teenagers.

Delayed Diagnosis of Bowel Cancer

Bowel cancer is the UK's 2nd biggest cancer killer, with only lung cancer killing more. The charity goes on to say that bowel cancer is very treatable, particularly when diagnosed early and that the biggest problem is that people are not aware of the symptoms of bowel cancer prior to being diagnosed. Symptoms include persistent changes in bowel habits, abdominal pain and bleeding.

A new report commissioned by Bowel Cancer UK has identified that many deaths are needlessly caused by delayed diagnosis and failures in screening. Given that a large percentage of women and teenagers attended their GP more than 5 times before being referred to a specialist it would seem to indicate that the healthcare professionals themselves need educating as they seem to be supporting the myth that you can be too young for it to be anything serious.

In response to the report, Deborah Alsina, CEO of Bowel Cancer UK, commented, "It is simply unacceptable that younger bowel cancer patients are experiencing delays in diagnosis because they are considered too young when clearly the statistics prove, whilst rare, it can and does happen. We must ensure that bowel cancer is ruled out much earlier in the diagnostic process. We must also ensure that those at greatest risk, for example, people with a genetic condition, receive the screening they need to detect any changes early".

The Daily Mail has highlighted the sad case of Holly Slater who attended her GP on numerous occasions over an 18 month period. Unfortunately, her symptoms were not recognised by the GP, the GP simply made a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Holly was simply prescribed medication to treat her presenting symptoms of IBS, which included trapped wind, cramping, constipation and occasional loose stools, without investigating the cause of the symptoms. Had the GP recognised the symptoms and referred Holly to a specialist for further investigations then she may well have survived.

Unfortunately, Holly’s condition deteriorated and she was eventually admitted to hospital. Although Holly had not presented with classical bowel cancer symptoms such as bloody stools or diarrhoea, doctors eventually carried out a colonoscopy which showed a tumour in her colon. Holly immediately underwent surgery to remove half her colon, surrounding lymph nodes and had a stoma formed and a colostomy bag fitted. She then underwent 8 cycles of chemotherapy, but unfortunately the cancer spread and metastasised and she died early this year.

As a result, Holly’s mother is helping to raise awareness about bowel cancer in the younger generation because, as she says, "The number of cases in young people are rising and it is very easy to misdiagnose the disease’, and so attitudes need to change."

Bowel Cancer UK has set out a number of key recommendations that they believe will transform the experiences of younger bowel cancer patients, these can be found on their website:,-screening-failures-and-unmet-needs-are-putting-younger-bowel-cancer-patients-at-risk/

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