Bowel Cancer Awareness Month


During the month of April the Colorectal Nursing Team will be raising awareness of bowel cancer in conjunction with Bowel Cancer UK and Macmillan Cancer Support.

Bowel cancer is a general term for cancer that develops in the large bowel (colon) or rectum.

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in UK. In Northern Ireland over 1,100 people are diagnosed every year and over 400 people die from the disease.

The symptoms of bowel cancer include blood in your stools (faeces), unexplained change in your bowel habits such as prolonged diarrhoea or constipation, unexplained weight loss or abdominal pain, extreme tiredness for no reason, a pain or lump in your tummy.

The early symptoms are very similar to other, much less serious problems with the bowel. It is very important to be aware of what is normal and seek advice from your GP if any of the above mentioned symptoms have lasted for more than 3 weeks.

Your GP will examine you and carry out some blood tests before considering referring you to a colorectal surgeon. Only then may more invasive tests be arranged if necessary.

Factors that increase your risk of bowel cancer include:

  • Age: 80% of people diagnosed are aged over 60yrs.
  • Diet: a diet high in red or processed meats and not eating adequate fibre found from eating adequate fruit and vegetables and wholegrain foods.
  • Obesity.
  • Exercise: being inactive increases your risk of developing bowel cancer.
  • Alcohol and smoking: a high alcohol intake and smoking may increase your chance of developing bowel cancer.
  • Family history and inherited conditions: can put you more at risk of getting bowel cancer. Monitoring and screening are necessary.
  • Related conditions: having certain bowel conditions can put you at greater risk of developing bowel cancer.

The good news is that bowel cancer can be successfully treated in over 90% of cases. That is if it is diagnosed at an early stage, before it has had a chance to grow and spread. Regular screening has been shown to be very effective in detecting changes in the bowel; such as polyps that can potentially change and become a cancer.

The Northern Ireland screening programme started in 2010 and offers screening every 2 years to all men and women aged 60-74. 144,000 invites are sent out per year in Northern Ireland. 2.7% of those who participate are positive. However, the uptake is around 51%. Awareness campaigns aim to improve public knowledge to increase numbers who complete screening.

You will be automatically sent an invitation letter followed by a screening test kit. The test is completed in the privacy of the person’s home. If the test is positive for blood the participant will be notified to undertake further test.

The earlier bowel cancer is caught the easier it is to treat! 

  • Know the symptoms of bowel cancer.
  • Act if you develop the symptoms of bowel cancer; see your GP.
  • Take part in the Bowel Screening programme when you are invited to participate.


Members of the Colorectal Team