Bowel cancer is England’s third most common cancer, with around 34,000 new cases each year. It is the second biggest cancer killer, but it needn’t be that way.
Bowel cancer affects both men and women. Nine out of ten people diagnosed with the disease are over 50 and those with a family history of bowel cancer are more at risk.
However, the sooner a patient is diagnosed with bowel cancer, the better their chances of successful treatment.
Bowel cancer screening
If you are aged 60-69 you’ll be sent bowel screening kits every two years. The screening programme is gradually extending to include everyone aged 60-74 years, but this hasn’t happened everywhere yet. If you are aged 70 or over, you can request a kit by phoning 0800 707 60 60.
The screening kits can help detect bowel cancer early, before you have any symptoms. And as we’ve said, the earlier the diagnosis, the better your chances of survival.
Experts say that these screening kits can significantly reduce the risk of dying from bowel cancer. They can also detect polyps, which can be easily removed. Polyps aren’t cancers, but in some cases they can develop into cancer.
If you have any symptoms mentioned in this leaflet, don’t wait for your screening kit. Go and see your doctor as soon as possible. Even if you are waiting for your screening results or your last result was normal, you should still see your doctor if you have any symptoms.
Find out more about bowel cancer screening on NHS Choices
Reduce your chances of getting bowel cancer
You can reduce the likelihood of getting bowel cancer by adopting a healthy lifestyle:
Eat healthily: try to get your 5-A-DAY (more vegetables and fruit) as well as more fish and wholegrain foods. Eat less fatty foods like cakes and pastries and fewer processed meats like bacon and ham.
Cut down on alcohol: drinking too much alcohol can lead to a number of health problems and is linked with bowel cancer. By drinking less, you’ll reduce your health risks.
Look after yourself: keep active. Swim, cycle, go dancing - the more you can do, the better. Even walking to your local shops instead of taking the car can make a difference.
Stop smoking: it’s never too late to quit. Giving up will lower your risk of getting bowel cancer. Find NHS help and support at smokefree.nhs.uk or call 0800 169 0169.
Read more about bowel cancer prevention on NHS Choices