40 per cent of men and women too embarrassed to speak about bowel cancer symptoms

Men and women in the UK aren’t seeking advice or help around bowel cancer symptoms out of fear of embarrassment. According to new 2017 statistics, 40% of respondents would feel embarrassed to tell someone if they had irregular bowel habits or blood in their stool – the two key warning signs of the cancer. The new figures raise concern that men and women are putting themselves at increased risk of late diagnosis because they are too embarrassed to tell anyone about their bowel habits.

The new research conducted independently on behalf of BMI Healthcare as part of the April Be Bowel Aware campaign reveals as many as 3 in 10 of the UK public have or may have had symptoms similar to those of bowel cancer. Yet of those, a third of them did not discuss their symptoms with anyone – this includes a medical professional, or even just a partner, friend or a family member.

The research also reveals that over half (57%) of the UK are not confident that they would know the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer.

Bowel cancer can affect both men and women of any age. It is the 4th most common cancer in the UK, and the 2nd biggest cancer killer, with someone dying of bowel cancer every 30 minutes in the UK. Over half of bowel cancer cases are diagnosed late, but an early diagnosis is crucial. To improve the number of early diagnoses, we all need to be aware of the symptoms, the national screening programme, and be confident in speaking about changes in our bowel habits.

Key statistics from 2017 bowel cancer research carried out for BMI Healthcare:

  • 40% of respondents would feel embarrassed to tell someone if they had irregular bowel habits, or blood in their stool.
  • Almost 3 in 10 (29%) of respondents feel they may have had bowel cancer related symptoms before and a third of those (33%) did not discuss their symptoms with a spouse/ partner, friend or family member and 27% did not seek a medical opinion
  • 57% are not confident that they’d know the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer
  • Only 8% feel very confident that they know the signs and symptoms
  • Nearly 9 in 10 (89%) of the UK would not be motivated to lose weight to reduce their cancer risk
  • Younger respondents (aged 16-24) are less confident of knowing the signs and symptoms (37% said they felt confident) than those over the age of 55 (although only half, 51%, of those aged 55 and over feel confident)
  • 31% of those asked are unaware how where bowel cancer ranks in terms of cancer killers and only 21% were aware that it is the 2nd biggest cancer killer
  • 74% of respondents are unaware of how often you should be called for screening once at the appropriate age. (The national screening programme age here is 60 in England, Wale and N. Ireland, and 50 years old in Scotland)
  • 65% of respondents were unaware of the national one off bowel scope screening test age (55)
  • The link between bowel cancer and processed/red meat consumption would not encourage 38% of the respondents to cut back on their consumption

The common signs and symptoms of bowel cancer include: a persistent change in bowel habits, especially going more often or looser stools; bleeding from the back passage (rectum) or blood in your stool; a lump that your doctor can feel in your back passage or abdomen (more commonly on the right side); a feeling of needing to strain in your back passage (as if you need to pass a bowel motion), even after opening your bowels; unexplained weight-loss or tiredness; pain in your abdomen or back passage; or a lower than normal level of red blood cells (anaemia).

The 2017 study was carried out between 24.03.2017 and 27.03.2017 and assessed 1,039 men and women in the UK, to gain consumer insights into the symptoms and risk factors of bowel cancer. The campaign is in line with the global health awareness event, Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, (April 2017).

BMI Healthcare is working with the charity Beating Bowel Cancer, to help raise bowel cancer awareness throughout the UK. Our specialist team of Gastroenterologists, Colorectal Surgeons and Specialist Oncologists have put together a guide with everything you need to know to help you become more bowel cancer aware - to view and download our free Be Bowel Aware guide, video and infographics, please visit: https://www.bmihealthcare.co.uk/be-bowel-cancer-aware

Expert Q&A with Mr Tariq Ismail, Consultant General Surgeon at BMI The Priory Hospital and BMI Edgbaston Hospital

What is bowel cancer?

“Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is a cancer situated anywhere in the large bowel (the colon or rectum). Bowel cancer is the 4th most common cancer in the UK and the second most common cause of cancer death with over 41,000 new cases diagnosed each year1. Bowel cancer is most common in the over 60s and is rare in people younger than 40 years old. The majority of cases develop from pre-cancerous polyps (tiny growths in the bowel), which if left untreated can, over years, develop into cancer.”

Who is most at risk of bowel cancer?

“The biggest single risk factor is age. More than 8 out of 10 bowel cancers are diagnosed in people aged 60 or over. So the risk increases as you get older. Other factors thought to increase the risk include smoking, obesity and alcohol and eating excessive red meat, , animal fat and sugar. A reduced risk has been noted in those who exercise and eat more fibre and pulses (peas, beans, lentils and nuts). There are some other medical conditions that increase the risk of bowel cancer and these include; Ulcerative colitis, Crohns Disease and having lots of polyps (which are more common as you get older).”

If there is a family history of bowel cancer, should extra precaution be taken?

“Bowel cancer is very common so having a relative with bowel cancer is not unusual. The chance of getting bowel cancer goes up only if the family history of it is very strong. A strong family history means having several relatives with bowel cancer, especially if they are particularly young.

“Examples of a strong family history might be; having a first degree relative (a parent or a sibling) diagnosed before the age of 45 or having two first degree relatives diagnosed at any age. To have a strong family history, the affected relatives must all come from the same side of the family.

“If you have a strong family history of bowel cancer you may need to be referred to a genetics service. You will need to see a bowel specialist for regular colonoscopies to pick up any signs of cancer as early as possible.”

How is bowel cancer detected?

“Usually patients develop symptoms and go to see their GP. The GP will do a rectal examination and some blood tests and then send the patient to see a specialist in the hospital. The two most common investigations to diagnose bowel cancer is a colonoscopy (a camera examination of the large bowel) and a CT colonogram (instead of having the camera put inside your bowel, the doctor looks at x ray pictures of the bowel).

“Some patients without symptoms are diagnosed through the NHS. The Bowel Cancer Screening Programme is offered to everyone aged 60 to 69 years old (75 years in some areas). Every 2 years patients are asked to send a poo sample to the laboratory. If blood is detected in the poo a colonoscopy is offered to see if there are early signs of cancer.”

What treatments are available?

“The treatment depends on how advanced the cancer is when it is diagnosed. The mainstay of treatment for confirmed bowel cancer is an operation to remove the cancer and its surrounding lymph glands. The bowel ends are usually joined back together but sometimes a colostomy bag is required. Nowadays, these operations are performed by keyhole surgery and patients typically spend less than a week in hospital.

“Often, surgery is all the treatment that is needed but If the cancer is advanced chemotherapy is offered and this can last for 6 months. Surgery can also be used to remove certain cancers that have spread to the liver or lungs but this is not always possible.

“For cancer in the rectum, radiotherapy is often used to shrink down the tumour before surgery.”

If you are living with bowel cancer and would like to find out more about the changes you could make, the treatments available, please read here: https://www.bmihealthcare.co.uk/health-matters/health-and-wellbeing/living-with-bowel-cancer

Categories: Health, Cancer Care

Date: 31st March 2017