Two health alerts in the space of a few days, it's like I'm becoming a public service!
However, when an e-mail from Cancer Research UK dropped into my inbox earlier, there was no way I couldn't share the information.
April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, and as someone whose father was diagnosed with bowel cancer six years ago it is something very relevant to me. Discussing the digestive system is often considered icky or inappropriate, I don't care. Receiving a phonecall from your mum at 5.30pm on a cold Friday evening in November when you're the only person left in the dark school, telling you that your dad has cancer and needs to have a 10cm length cut out of his bowel as soon as possible; that's inappropriate. He'd only been to the GP because he was feeling a bit faint and weak, yet a few hours later he'd been sent to hospital and was attached to a two-pint blood transfusion for severe anaemia from the blood loss through his stools.
Bowels = poo.
Deal with it. We all do it, why it's such a no-no to discuss it is beyond me.
The symptoms of colorectal (bowel) cancer can include
- Bleeding from the back passage (rectum) or blood in stools
- A change in normal bowel habits to diarrhoea or looser stools, lasting longer than 6 weeks
- A lump that your doctor can feel in the back passage or abdomen (more commonly on the right side)
- A feeling of needing to strain in the back passage (as if you needed to pass a bowel motion)
- Losing weight
- Pain in your abdomen or back passage
- A lower than normal level of red blood cells (anaemia)
Bowel cancer is the 3rd most common cancer in the UK after breast and lung cancer.
In the UK more than 41,000 people are diagnosed with large bowel cancer each year.
More than 85 out of 100 bowel cancers (85%) are diagnosed in people aged 60 or over.
Ulcerative colitis is a chronic bowel diseases causing inflammation in the bowel.
Having very severe ulcerative colitis (or Crohn's disease) for many years increases your risk of bowel cancer.
Probably about 1 in every 100 cases of bowel cancer (1%) is due to ulcerative colitis.
(This is one of the reasons why one of my best friend's had her colon removed last year at the age of 35. She was so bedbound that she was incapable to caring for her three year old daughter.)
Screening currently works via testing for blood in the stools, and then examining the inside of the bowel. Cancer Research UK are introducing Bowel Scope Screening as a matter of screening before the symptoms occur, through six pilot centres. By 2016, everyone in England should be invited to have a test at the age of 55. Current screening exists for over 60s or those at high risk.
I urge anyone who has the above symptoms to visit their GP as soon as possible. Bowel cancer has one of the best recovery rates.
That's why my dad lived to hold his first grandchild.