Leeds medic warns against missing out on vital bowel cancer screening

A bowel cancer screening test.
A bowel cancer screening test.
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“Take the test!”

That’s the message from Leeds experts reminding people of the importance of taking part in the free national bowel cancer screening programme.

April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, highlighting the UK’s second-biggest cancer killer, claiming a life every 30 minutes. However if spotted in the earliest stages can be successfully treated in over 95 per cent of cases.

Screening tests are sent every two years to people aged between 60 and 74, but according to Bowel Cancer UK, only a third of people who receive a free test actually go on to complete it.

Consultant colorectal surgeon Professor David Jayne, who works at Spire Leeds Hospital in Roundhay, said: “That means a vast majority of people are just not being tested. Screening can detect bowel cancer before any symptoms appear which means it is much easier to treat and success rates are very high.”

Prof Jayne urged people of all ages to be on the lookout for symptoms: “A change in your bowel habit that lasts for three weeks or more and blood in your poo are warning signs that need acting upon as soon as possible. Other signs include unexplained weight loss, feeling tired without reason, stomach pains or a lump in the stomach.

“Your first stop is your GP who, after an initial examination, will send patients to be assessed in clinic by a colorectal surgeon usually meaning a colonoscopy, a flexible camera test of the bowel, or a CT scan.” Around 16,000 people in the UK every year die from the illness but Prof Jayne said the chances of successful treatment could be improved by early diagnosis.

How to reduce your risks

Stop smoking: Long-term smokers are more likely to develop bowel cancer.

Watch your weight: Maintaining a healthy weight is the most important thing you can do for cancer prevention.

Cut down on alcohol: Bowel cancer has been linked to a heavy intake of alcohol.

Exercise regularly: Besides using up extra calories and helping avoid gaining weight, being physically active also helps food move through your digestive system more quickly.

Eat healthily: Make sure you eat plenty of dietary fibre from whole grains, seeds, fruit and vegetables.