I’ve got bowel cancer and I want you to know so you can protect yourself, your friends and family from the risks of undetected and undiagnosed bowel cancer.
You see, when it’s diagnosed early, bowel cancer is both treatable and curable but as the disease progresses the survival statistics start to drop significantly. So it’s really important to understand as much as we can about the nature of bowel cancer and the risk factors involved.
Let’s talk about it!
In my opinion and experience, there is a reluctance to talk about cancer and anything to do with the bowel such as bowel movements. Consequently, we don’t tend to talk openly about the symptoms of bowel cancer and it can be difficult to understand the difference between what is ‘normal’ or ‘abnormal’ bowel movements and when you should see your GP.
Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in the UK but it needn’t be! You can read about the symptoms on the Bowel Cancer UK website but sometimes cancer can occur in someone like me who has a genetic condition and no obvious symptoms. If a close member of your family (parent, sibling or child) has been diagnosed with bowel cancer before the age of 50, or it has affected more than two family members of any age, see your GP to arrange screening.
Possible but not probable
Genetic conditions that cause bowel cancer are rare, but please don’t rule them out. After my mother was diagnosed with bowel cancer it became apparent that in the past many members of our family had died from the disease. After seeing my GP I was tested for a condition called Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP) and found to be positive.
Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP)
FAP is rare and less than 1% of bowel cancer is caused by it, but I represent one of those statistics. I had no symptoms but after genetic testing I had a colonoscopy that showed I had hundreds of pre-cancerous polyps and was at a high risk of getting cancer. My only option to escape the risk of cancer was to have my large bowel removed in a total colectomy.
In the short time between diagnosis of FAP and waiting for my operation, further tests showed that one of these polyps had become cancerous. I’m very lucky because without this diagnosis and treatment, the cancer would have spread to other organs in my body. I expect to enjoy a full recovery and I’m keen to raise awareness so others may get an early diagnosis of bowel cancer.
Bowel screening kits
Depending where you live in the UK, after age 50 or 60, you will automatically be sent a bowel screening kit in the post. USE IT! This is a simple way to test healthy people to see if they show any early signs of bowel cancer.
No-one is too young
Although we tend to think of bowel cancer being a disease that affects the older population, around 2,500 younger people are diagnosed every year and this number is increasing. Typically, diagnosis for younger patients is delayed because healthcare professionals and young people themselves underestimate the risk.
What can you do?
Make yourself aware of the risks and symptoms of bowel cancer, there is excellent information on the Bowel Cancer UK website. Speak openly about topics related to the bowel so it stops being a taboo subject. You can help to keep yourself, friends, family and colleagues protected from undiagnosed bowel cancer that results in so many unnecessary deaths each year.