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We warn of alarmingly low symptom awareness for bowel cancer

A quarter of people (25%) only named one of the five most common bowel cancer symptoms and more than 1 in 3 people (35%) were not aware of any symptoms at all, according to a poll of 4,000 UK adults commissioned by the charity. The results are published for Bowel Cancer Awareness Month this April.

Men are less likely than women to recognise any bowel cancer symptoms with nearly half of UK men (45%) unable to spot any signs of the UK’s second biggest cancer killer.

The most recognisable bowel cancer symptom, which over half of people identified (53%), is spotting blood when you go for a poo (either from your bottom or in your poo). The other four remaining symptoms of bowel cancer have an alarmingly low rate of awareness:

  • Change of bowel habit (13%)
  • Pain or lump in your tummy (10%)
  • Extreme weight loss (7%)
  • Unexplained tiredness/fatigue (2%)

We commissioned a YouGov survey to gauge awareness of the symptoms of the UK’s fourth most common cancer. In April alone nearly 3,500 people will be diagnosed with bowel cancer and over 1,300 people will die of the disease. Being aware of key symptoms and visiting your GP if things don’t feel right can help increase chances of an early diagnosis.

Bowel cancer is treatable and curable, especially if diagnosed early. Nearly everyone diagnosed at the earliest stage will survive bowel cancer but this drops significantly as the disease develops. Early diagnosis really does save lives, but only around 15% of people are diagnosed at the earliest stage of the disease.

Former Everton midfielder Kevin Sheedy is backing the charity’s campaign to raise awareness of bowel cancer symptoms as he was diagnosed with the disease in 2012. He says: “I noticed I was going to the toilet a lot more and then I started finding blood when I went for a poo. I remembered listening to an

awareness advert I’d heard on the radio and I knew I had to book an appointment with my GP urgently.

“I was diagnosed with bowel cancer but luckily I was treated quickly. I had surgery to remove the tumour before it had spread elsewhere and I didn’t need any further treatment. The most important thing is to see your GP if you notice any symptoms. Doing that saved my life.”

Deborah Alsina MBE, Chief Executive of Bowel Cancer UK and Beating Bowel Cancer, says: “Every day I hear from families about the devastating effects of a bowel cancer diagnosis. Our vision is that by 2050 no one will die from bowel cancer, and raising awareness of the symptoms is a key step to achieving this.

“If you experience any of the symptoms of bowel cancer or just don’t feel quite right, no matter your age, please visit your GP. Don’t worry about wasting their time. If you are worried that something is wrong, they will want to see you. Your GP may be able to put your mind at rest. If it is something serious, the earlier you get a diagnosis, the better the chance of successful treatment and cure.”