Bowel Cancer Awareness Month 2022: dates, how to spot signs and symptoms - and what is the treatment?

Almost half of British adults cannot name a single symptom of bowel cancer, a new poll for Bowel Cancer UK suggests

April marks Bowel cancer Awareness Month which aims to help people recognise the warning symptoms to look for in a bid to increase earlier diagnosis.

A person is diagnosed with bowel cancer every 15 minutes in the UK, according to Bowel Cancer UK, which amounts to around 43,000 people each year.

It is the nation’s second biggest cancer killer and is the cause of 16,500 deaths every year in Britain.

Around 43,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in the UK each year (Photo: Adobe)Around 43,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in the UK each year (Photo: Adobe)
Around 43,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in the UK each year (Photo: Adobe)

When is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month?

Bowel Cancer Awareness takes place from 1 to 30 April 2022 to help increase awareness of the disease and raise funds towards treating the condition.

The charity is encouraging people to get involved by sharing a photo that represents you or your journey with cancer on its #thisisbowelcancer wall to show others they are not alone.

Whether you are a patient, family member, friend, colleague, healthcare professional or researcher, everyone can get involved to shine a light on the stories of people affected by bowel cancer.

You can add your experience via the Bowel Cancer UK website.

What are the symptoms?

A new poll of 2,000 British adults for the charity found that 45% cannot name a single symptom of the disease, with men being less able to identify symptoms than women.

Just over a third (35%) of adults were able to identify the “red flag” symptom of blood in poo, but the other four main symptoms had “alarmingly low rates of awareness”, the charity said. These include a change in bowel habits, pain in the abdomen, weight loss and unexplained fatigue.

Only one in eight (12%) knew that a change in bowel habits was linked to the disease, while a mere 11% recognised stomach pain as a symptom. Just 8% knew that unexplained weight loss could be a sign of bowel cancer and only 2% knew fatigue could be a symptom.

Symptoms of bowel cancer can be subtle and do not necessarily make you feel unwell.

The NHS states than more than 90% of people with the disease suffer from one of the following symptoms:

  • a persistent change in bowel habits, such as pooing more often, with looser, runnier poos and sometimes abdominal pain
  • blood in the poo without other symptoms of piles (haemorrhoids) 
  • abdominal pain, discomfort or bloating always brought on by eating, sometimes resulting in weight loss and eating less

Constipation, where you pass harder stools less often, is rarely caused by serious bowel conditions. Most people with this symptom do not have bowel cancer.

How is bowel cancer treated?

Bowel Cancer UK said if the disease is caught early enough it can be cured, with almost everyone who is diagnosed at an early stage surviving.

However, these odds drop significantly if the cancer has had a chance to spread.

Treatment depends on which part of the bowel is affected, and how far the cancer has spread, but it will usually involve surgery. This may be combined with chemotherapy, radiotherapy or biological treatments, depending on the severity of the case.

A complete cure is not always possible and there is sometimes a risk that the cancer could come back at a later stage.

A cure is less likely in more advanced cancers that cannot be completely removed by surgery, but symptoms can be controlled and the spread of the cancer slowed by using a combination of treatments.

It said that if more people are aware of symptoms then more will seek help at an earlier stage.

Dr Lisa Wilde, director of research and external affairs at Bowel Cancer UK, said: “Bowel cancer remains the UK’s second biggest cancer killer, and it’s shocking that people aren’t aware of the symptoms to look out for.

“If you notice any signs of bowel cancer, or if things just don’t feel right for you, please visit your GP.

“While the disease largely affects people over the age of 50, more than 2,600 under 50s are diagnosed each year, so it’s really important people seek advice as soon as possible – whatever their age – if they’re worried.”

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