April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month and GPs in Richmond are reminding local people to keep an eye out for the signs and symptoms of the disease.
Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in the UK. However, if diagnosed in the early stages, the disease is highly treatable. On average, 87 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer across Richmond every year, with around 30 people dying from the disease annually. Regular screenings can be a real lifesaver – but unfortunately, the number of people attending screening programmes in Richmond lags behind the national average.
Many people are a bit embarrassed to talking to their GP about their bowels. However, there’s no need to be shy, says Dr Graham Lewis, a local GP and Chair of Richmond Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). As a GP, he’s seen it all before – and more.
“Our bowels aren't always on the top of our list of things we choose to talk about but it’s important that we do,” he says.
“Screening plays an important part in the fight against bowel cancer because the earlier the cancer is diagnosed, the greater the chance it can be cured completely.
“There’s also a lot of things you can do to help reduce your risk of bowel cancer, like trying to maintain a diet high in fibre by eating wholegrain foods such as brown rice and granary bread, and avoiding too many processed meats such as ham, bacon and sausages.”
Symptoms of bowel cancer may include, bleeding from the bottom and/or blood in your poo and/or a change in your normal bowel habit lasting three weeks or more. Other symptoms include extreme tiredness for no obvious reason and unexplained weight loss. If you notice these symptoms, speak to your GP. They may be nothing to worry about – but it’s better to get checked out.
Older people are most at risk of bowel cancer, but younger people can be affected too. Currently, everyone between the ages of 60 and 69 who is registered with a GP is offered bowel cancer screening every two years. People in this age group will automatically be sent an invitation, then their screening kit, so they can do the test at home.
“Knowing the signs and symptoms and talking to your GP is so important” continues Dr Lewis. “Too few people with bowel cancer are diagnosed in the early stages, when the disease is much easier to treat. So know what to look for, and if in doubt, talk to your GP.”