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.
Hi Lesley, I too have a genetic cancer gene the BRAC 2, ovarian and breast, I too had no symptoms but had both ovarian and breast cancer. Screening is essential, if your sent the bowel kit USE IT !!!!! Send the sample off, it might be embarrassing , inconvenient, but believe me it’s nothing compared to cancer treatment or your life.
Hope your doing well Lesley, take care,
Lorraine Benn ( Brodie -Taylor) xx
Absolutely right Lorraine. Modern medicine is fantastic and genetic testing is saving lives. We have both been fortunate that we have been diagnosed before we’ve had symptoms at the later stages of cancer. Others may ignore signs and symptoms without realising the implications of ignoring changes. The more we talk about these things, the more likely people are to take action at the first signs of something seeming wrong or different. Yes, the bowel kit is really effective. A close friend sent hers in for no other reason that the test was sent to her and she had a polyp removed that was cancerous but in the early stages which meant that removal was enough to remedy the situation and follow up examinations will manage the situation going forward. I can’t emphasise enough how common bowel cancer is and the need to be vigilant.
Hope you are well.
I have rang after reading this article and it not rolled out in my area yet, they suggested checking with them every 3 months .
As you know I am a big advocate for Amy screening x
Glad to hear you are doing well. My husband had cancerous polyps and had part of his bowl removed resulting in having a bag for life. No nice but he is alive and now living a normal life. Just through doing the poo test. Nothing hereditary as far as we know.
Sue, always best to be safe than sorry! Glad your husband has had a positive intervention and that you are clear.
Thank you Lesley for raising awareness. My husband and daughter both have Lynch Syndrome (Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer) which is associated with increased risk of colon cancer as well as other cancers including endometrial cancer in women.
Regular screening is now a part of our lives (my husband and daughter both had genetic testing after he was diagnosed with cancer at age 45). As you pointed out these things run in families – my father in law was also diagnosed with Lynch Syndrome. I would encourage everyone to explore their medical history and be alert to changes in their bowel movements and discuss any concerns they may have with their GP.
Wishing you all the very best.
Good advice Stephanie, quick action can save lives.