Health: Yorkshire cancer survivor urges people in Leeds not to ignore lifesaving screening test

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In some parts of Leeds less than 30 per cent of 60 to 74 year olds are returning their bowel cancer screening tests.

The kits, sent every two years to people in the age group who are registered with a GP, are in some cases being ignored despite the fact that bowel cancer is the UK’s second biggest cancer killer.

Bowel cancer survivor John Whelpton, 66, from Pontefract, is urging people not to ignore screening tests. Picture by Tony Johnson.

Bowel cancer survivor John Whelpton, 66, from Pontefract, is urging people not to ignore screening tests. Picture by Tony Johnson.

John Whelpton, 66, could have been among the 16,000 people nationally to die every year from the disease if his condition was not diagnosed early in 2009.

The Pontefract businessman told his doctor he had noticed blood in his stools at a routine check-up, prompting tests which revealed a stage two tumour. John had radiotherapy before the lower part of his bowel was removed. He was given the all-clear in 2010.


But having had a potentially dangerous polip removed after a follow-up exam earlier this year, he is urging people not to ignore the screening programme that launched shortly after his diagnosis.

“Because of my age I get the kit every two years now and I still do it – you just never know,” he said. “You’ve got to keep an eye on these things and if it comes back, the sooner it gets treated the better the outcome.”

Thankful for his early diagnosis, the grandfather of four now spends time speaking to groups at places including Sikh temples and Rotary clubs to break down misconceptions of the screening programme.

He said the test, which involves sending a stool sample off in the post, is done in the privacy of your own home and although “it is not a pleasant task” it is well worth the effort.

“If I had left it another few months – you don’t know exactly how long – and it had started to spread to the surrounding lymph glands and organs my chances of survival would have gone from 95 per cent to eight per cent,” he said. “It’s absolutely imperative to catch it as soon as possible.”

In a bid to boost uptake in the screening programme, NHS Leeds South and East Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is stepping up an awareness campaign while engaging with GPs, and community and religious groups this week.

To debunk myths about testing, it is running a community roadshow in the White Rose Shopping Centre, featuring demonstrations and the chance for people to pledge their commitment to testing until Sunday.

Andy Robinson, clinical lead for cancer at the CCG, said: “We know that people sometimes feel uncomfortable about it, but the reality is, it’s pretty quick and easy to do – you can do at it home and it’s actually much less invasive than some of the other cancer screening programmes. We’re hoping that through this campaign, we can reassure people that the benefits of taking the test far outweigh anything else – it could literally save your life.”

Take steps to avoid late diagnosis

- Symptoms of bowel cancer include blood in your stools, a pain or lump in your stomach, feeling more tired than usual for some time and losing weight for no obvious reason.

- The screening test includes a spatula for taking a stool sample, a sealable card carrier to place the sample on and a freepost envelope.

- To pledge to complete a test by signing the NHS Leeds South and East CCG register visit

- For more information on the test call 0800 7076060.