Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer and the second most common cause of cancer death in the UK, yet trials show that bowel cancer screening can cut deaths from the disease by 15% in 60-74 year olds.
A simple blood test can detect early signs of bowel cancer.
Signs and symptoms
The symptoms of bowel cancer can be subtle and don't necessarily make you feel ill.
More than 90% of people with bowel cancer have one of the following combinations of symptoms:
- A persistent change in bowel habit – going more often, with looser stools and sometimes abdominal pain
- Blood in the stools without other piles (haemorrhoids) symptoms – this makes it unlikely the cause is haemorrhoids
- Discomfort or bloating always brought on by eating – sometimes resulting in a reduction in the amount of food eaten and weight loss
- Constipation, where you pass harder stools less often, is rarely caused by serious bowel conditions.
When to seek medical advice
Although bowel cancer symptoms are very common, you should see your GP if they persist for more than four weeks. Most people with these symptoms don't have bowel cancer.
For more information on bowel cancer, visit the NHS choices website.
NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme
People aged between 60-74 who are registered with a GP will receive a free NHS bowel cancer screening kit through the post, every two years. Bowel cancer screening is a simple and private test that can be done at home.
The kit includes:
- An orange and white cardboard test kit
- Six cardboard sticks
- A guidance leaflet
- A prepaid return envelope.
To complete the test simply provide tiny samples from three separate bowel motions (poos) using the cardboard sticks then return the kit for testing, using the special hygienic envelope.
The test is then repeated every two years until the age of 74 because regular screening has been shown to reduce the risk of dying from the disease by at least 16 per cent.