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Over 60s urged to take bowel cancer test

Patients across Staffordshire aged 60-74 are being urged by local GPs to take up the bowel cancer screening test.

The call is being made by local health chiefs as England marks Bowel Cancer Awareness Month this April, to highlight a disease which can strike against young, old, male and female patients and affect the lives of their families, friends and colleagues.

Bowel cancer is a common type of cancer in both men and women – especially as they get older – and about one in 20 people will get it during their lifetime.

Screening can help detect bowel cancer at an early stage when it's easier to treat. It can also be used to help check for and remove small growths in the bowel called polyps, which can turn into cancer over time.

Dr Murray Campbell, a GP and Staffordshire's Macmillan GP facilitator for bowel cancer prevention screening, has been working to raise awareness among patients and health professionals of the importance of testing.

He said: “Patients aged 60-74 are being invited to undergo a simple test, which is offered every two years. Women have traditionally been better at offering samples than men but we would like everyone who is offered a test to take part.

“The simple test comes through the post so the patient can carry it out themselves. They just need to take a small sample on three different occasions and place them on a card and send them back.

“The screening team are looking for small signs of blood in the faeces which cannot be seen and may be warning of something more serious. If the test comes back positive patients are referred to a local bowel screening centre for further tests.

“The number of people developing cancer in the UK is rising. One in two people born in the UK since 1960 will get cancer, although it is anticipated that three in four of those people will survive for 10 years or more due to treatment.

“This is why it is vital to catch cancers early when they can be most effectively treated and why screening programmes such as bowel cancer testing can make a huge difference to the outcomes for patients diagnosed with the disease.”

People are advised to always see a GP if they have symptoms of bowel cancer at any age – they don't have to wait to have a screening test, and they should consult their GP if they have the symptoms of bowel cancer even if a previous screening has come up negative.

Patients over 75 years can also request a testing kit by ringing 0800 707 6060.

More than 90 per cent of people with bowel cancer have one of the following combinations of symptoms:

  • a persistent change in bowel habit – going more often, with looser stools and sometimes tummy (abdominal) pain
  • blood in the stools
  • weight loss, loss /reduction in appetite, abdominal pain, discomfort or bloating

Constipation, where you pass harder stools less often, is rarely caused by serious bowel conditions.

Most people with these symptoms don't have bowel cancer, but if patients have one or more of the symptoms of bowel cancer and they persist, they should see their GP.

The causes of bowel cancer are not fully understood but there are a number of factors that can increase the risk, including advancing age, a diet high in red or processed meats and low in fibre, obesity, lack of exercise, smoking, drinking alcohol, and family history – having a close relative who developed bowel cancer under the age of 50 puts you at a greater lifetime risk of developing the condition.

Some people also have an increased risk of bowel cancer because they have another condition, such as extensive ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease in the colon for more than 10 years.

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