Only 5 per cent of Brits can accurately spot the key signs of bowel cancer

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  • 95 per cent were unsure about the main signs of the cancer
  • Bowel cancer is UK’s second biggest cancer killer – 16,000 people die each year
  • Knowing the signs and early diagnosis is key to curing the disease

Only five per cent of the British public say they are able to positively identify the main signs of bowel cancer, according to statistics published today.

A new study by the national law firm, Stephensons, to coincide with Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, showed that thousands could be at risk of missing the key symptoms of undiagnosed bowel cancer, which claims 16,000 lives each year.

The disease – also known as colorectal cancer - develops in the large bowel which forms part of the digestive system. It is the UK’s second biggest cancer killer and more than 41,000 people are diagnosed each year. Nine out of ten new cases are in people over the age of 50, but bowel cancer can affect any age group.

According to Bowel Cancer UK, symptoms can include bleeding from the bottom or blood in stool; a prolonged change in bowel habit or unexplained tiredness. Those who are diagnosed at an early stage have a significantly higher chance of successful treatment and are less likely to see the cancer spread.

The study shows that while 75 per cent of respondents correctly identified bleeding from the bottom as a potential symptom of bowel cancer, far fewer were able to identify other common symptoms, including feeling tired (23 per cent) or feeling/being sick (16 per cent).

Alarmingly, some of those polled falsely identified conditions such as unexplained weight gain or headaches as potential symptoms.

Meanwhile, men were consistently less likely to accurately identify the main signs of bowel cancer, with the gap in awareness to their female counterparts being as high as 20 per cent.

Professor Marc Winslet, Honorary Consultant and Emeritus Professor at the Royal Free Hospital London, said: “Bowel cancer can present in a myriad of ways, depending on where the cancer appears in the bowel itself.

“Anyone with symptoms which persist for more than six weeks should see their GP at the earliest opportunity. If bowel cancer is caught early enough, it is treatable in approximately 90 per cent of cases.

“People are sometimes nervous about visiting their GP, particularly where there are symptoms involving an intimate area of the body. This tends to be a cultural problem not found in other countries and UK men are far more reticent than women. However, the initial GP appointment is nothing more than the GP feeling the tummy and performing a simple rectal examination. It will take a matter of minutes and doctors are used to seeing and discussing similar symptoms.


What are the main signs of bowel cancer?
According to Bowel Cancer UK, symptoms of bowel cancer include:

- Bleeding from the bottom/blood in your poo
- A change in bowel habit lasting 3 weeks or more
- Unexplained weight loss
- Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason
- A pain or lump in your tummy
- Feeling or being sick
- Being Unable to empty bowels or pass wind

“If you are 60 or over, you will receive information through the post inviting you to take part in the NHS bowel cancer screening. Because this is a higher risk age group, it is important you take part, even if you have no symptoms. If all those eligible for the screening programme were to take part, this could cut the levels of bowel cancer significantly.”

“Either they don’t go to see their GP at all, or put it off to a point at which it is too late and the cancer may have spread to other parts of the body.

Claire Stockley, a clinical negligence specialist at Stephensons - who commissioned the study - said: “The biggest obstacle to catching and treating bowel cancer is usually embarrassment over the symptoms it can present.

“Sometimes, however, even where someone has attended their GP presenting symptoms of bowel cancer, it can still go undiagnosed due to a medical mistake – either because the medical professional has failed to pick up on the signs or has not referred the patient to a specialist.

“This is why it is vitally important that the general public is aware of the main signs of bowel cancer and can act quickly and decisively if they believe that their concerns are not being properly acted upon by a medical professional.”

Professor Winslet said: “If your symptoms persist, even after your GP has said you are unlikely to have bowel cancer, don’t be afraid to go back to your doctor. Your symptoms will be reassessed and this should result in a referral to a specialist.”


About Stephensons: Stephensons is a full service, national law firm with offices across the country. The firm covers more than 30 separate legal disciplines for individuals, businesses and government organisations.

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About this study: The research was carried out in April 2018 with a nationally representative sample of 2,007 UK residents. Research was carried out by Stephensons through a member polling organisation of the British Polling Council (BPC). For more information about the BPC, visit