Written by

Peter Rigby - Director of Medical Negligence

Recent studies have shown that GPs fail to spot two thirds of cancer cases. Peter Rigby, Director of Medical Negligence at Patient Claim Line, has put together some useful information around bowel cancer and how you can spot the early signs.


Julie Walters’ Cancer Diagnosis

Dame Julie Walters recently shared that she was diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer eighteen months ago. She shared her story with a fellow cancer survivor, BBC journalist Victoria Derbyshire. Her illness and treatment meant that she had to reduce her role in her upcoming project, The Secret Garden and also miss the premiere of Mamma Mia 2.

The actress had reported early symptoms to her GP and she was then referred for a CT scan. It was following this that she received the devastating diagnosis.

Fortunately, she responded well to a combination of surgery and chemotherapy and has now been given the all clear.


Using celebrity status to raise awareness

Celebrities can use their platform to promote awareness, start discussion around related issues and reduce stigma.

Bowel Cancer UK expressed their sympathy and shared a link to their website on Twitter. Many users of the social media platform then shared their positive experiences following early detection of cancer via the home screening kit that is offered to all adults over 60.

Bowel Cancer UK has been involved in advising the team at ITV’s Emmerdale for the upcoming storyline where character Vanessa Woodfield is to be diagnosed with bowel cancer. Soap operas play a vital role in highlighting health conditions and signposting viewers to further information and help.


Home screening kit

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, people over the age of 60 are invited to take part in bowel cancer screening. In Scotland, screening starts from age 50. You will be invited to take part in screening every two years until you reach the age of 75.

Each of the screening programmes in the UK use home tests, which look for hidden blood in your stools. If you are registered with a GP and within the eligible screening age range, a test will automatically be posted to you, so you can complete it in the privacy of your own home.

If you are aged 75 or over, you can ask for a screening test by calling the free Bowel Cancer Screening helpline on 0800 707 60 60 (England) or 0800 0121 833 (Scotland).

It is important to remember that the test can give a false positive, but also that the signs can arise between tests, or before the age of 60 so it is important to be aware of the signs.


What are the signs of bowel cancer?

Possible symptoms that can indicate bowel cancer include:

  • Bleeding from your bottom and/or blood in your stools
  • A persistent and unexplained change in bowel habit
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason
  • A pain or lump in your tummy

There are other reasons for all of these symptoms, but if you are at all concerned then you should visit your GP.

It can be difficult for some people to talk about bowel movements, but it is so important to know what is normal for you and be able to share any concerns with your doctor.


Who is at risk of bowel cancer?

As we all know, sadly cancer can affect anyone. However, there are certain factors that mean you may have an increased risk of bowel cancer.

  • Aged over 50;
  • A strong family history of bowel cancer; this is a close family member (ie parent or sibling) diagnosed before aged 50 or two or more close relatives diagnosed at any age or a relative with a linked genetic condition;
  • A history of non-cancerous growths (polyps) in your bowel;
  • Longstanding inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis;
  • Type 2 diabetes; and/or
  • An unhealthy lifestyle such as not having a balanced diet, being overweight, not exercising, smoking or drinking over the recommended units.


What are the stages of bowel cancer?

  • Stage 1 – the cancer hasn’t spread outside the bowel wall
  • Stage 2 – the cancer has grown into or through the outer layer of the bowel wall
  • Stage 3 – the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes
  • Stage 4 – the cancer has spread to other parts of the body


What is the treatment for bowel cancer?

Treatment for bowel cancer will depend on the staging as well as other factors such as any other health conditions you may have. If you are diagnosed, you will be advised of all the options which can include any combination of surgery (to remove tumours and/or sections of the colon), radiotherapy (using radiation to tackle the tumour) and chemotherapy (a drug therapy that targets cancer cells).


Further information

If you have experienced a delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis of bowel cancer, visit our bowel cancer claims page for further information.

For more information on any of this, visit bowelcanceruk.org.uk.

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