It may seem like an embarrassing topic to approach, but during Bowel Cancer Awareness Month people are being encouraged to check for signs. Health reporter Priya Mistry speaks to two cancer survivors who hope their stories will inspire others.
Without a shadow of a doubt getting himself checked out sooner rather than later saved Arnold Peace’s life.
Four years after being given the devastating news that he had bowel cancer, Mr Peace is able to enjoy the pleasures of life.
But he feels it could have been a very different story had he not acted upon certain symptoms that were later diagnosed as bowel cancer.
During Bowel Cancer Awareness Month Mr Peace shares his story in a bid to urge others to not be shy and get checked.
The 72-year-old of Dore Avenue, Portchester, says: ‘I had lots of mouth ulcers and went to see my doctor.
‘He checked me over and decided to send off for some blood tests.
‘After two weeks I was called back in and was told there had been some abnormalities detected and so I was sent to Queen Alexandra Hospital for further tests.’
Mr Peace went to the Cosham hospital and had a short tube called a flexible sigmoidoscopy, inserted inside him to see what problems could be picked up.
The procedure means a person does not need to go under anaesthetic and a diagnosis can be made within five minutes.
Mr Peace adds: ‘The procedure was very quick and although some may find it embarrassing, it can be the difference between life and death.
‘During my examination the consultant found a growth in my bowel.
‘I remember the doctor was very calm and said “before we go any further I think I will a specimen from this growth and see if it is cancerous”.
‘This happened and then I waited for the results.’
After a couple of weeks the retired HMS Warrior quartermaster’s worst fears were confirmed – he was diagnosed with bowel cancer.
His diagnosis was made in April 2011, and by August of the same year had keyhole surgery to remove the cancerous tumour.
This was followed by months of chemotherapy to ensure the disease did not return.
‘I was so impressed with the help I got at QA, it really was faultless and I cannot thank them enough,’ adds Mr Peace.
‘The reason why I was able to recover so well was because the cancer was picked up quite early.
‘My message to others would be if you’re suspicious of any symptoms then don’t be embarrassed, but go and see your GP.
‘It might seem drastic but it is the truth.
‘The longer you leave it then the worse it can be for you, so I would urge people to be aware.
‘And not just of bowel cancer, any cancer.’
Symptoms of bowel cancer can include:
n Bleeding from the bottom
n A change in your bowel habit lasting more than three weeks
n Abdominal pain, especially if severe
n A lump in your tummy
n Weight loss and tiredness
According to Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs QA, more than 90 per cent of people who are diagnosed at the earliest stage are successfully treated.
Pat Garrett, Macmillan library officer at Portsmouth Central Library, says: ‘Screening can find bowel cancer at an early stage, when it has the best chance of being treated.
‘During Bowel Cancer Awareness month Macmillan is urging more people to take up the offer of free screening.
‘Someone may be put off because they feel embarrassed or worried but it’s important to remember that taking the screening test could help save their life.’
It’s a message that has been backed by charity Bowel Cancer UK.
Nick Bason, head of policy and communications, says: ‘Bowel cancer is one of the UK’s biggest cancer killers, yet it’s a disease which is often overlooked and diagnosed too late.
‘Every year more than 41,500 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer which equates to a diagnosis every 15 minutes and around 16,000 people die of the disease.
‘If you are worried about any symptoms that you think might be caused by bowel cancer, make an appointment with your doctor.
‘Yet bowel cancer is both treatable and curable if diagnosed sufficiently early.
‘Survival rates from bowel cancer are closely associated with the stage of diagnosis
‘Around 98 per cent of people diagnosed at the earliest stage of bowel cancer will survive for more than five years. However, only eight per cent of people diagnosed at the latest stage of bowel cancer will survive for more than five years.
All men and women aged 60 to 74 are invited to carry out a faecal occult blood test – which tests for blood which may not be visible – at home.
If you are aged 75 or over, you can ask for this test by calling the freephone on 0800 707 60 60. To find out more about the condition, visit the website bowelcanceruk.org.uk
Cancer facts and help
THE term bowel cancer can be used to describe cancer in the colon, rectum or the small bowel.
The colon and rectum make up the large bowel.
Cancer of the colon or rectum is also called colorectal cancer and is the third most-commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK, according to Macmillian Cancer Support.
The cause of most cases is unknown but lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise are thought to affect your risk of developing colon or rectal cancer.
Pat Garrett has set up the Macmillan Information Centre at Portsmouth Central Library, aiming to make it a go-to ‘hub’ for anyone with questions or concerns about cancer.
It takes place on the first Wednesday of each month and the free session runs from 10am to midday.
She says: ‘When you have cancer you don’t just worry about what will happen to your body, you worry about what will happen to your life.
‘Whether it concerns about who you can talk to, planning for the extra costs or what to do about work, sometimes you need a little support to help you take back control of your life.
‘The coffee morning is open to anyone affected by cancer, including carers.
‘It’s an opportunity to share thoughts and experiences over coffee and cake.
‘We provide services for anyone affected by cancer, whether they have a cancer diagnosis themselves, or a friend or family member has – or simply anyone who would like to know more about cancer.’
A CANCER survivor whose disease was picked up by a home-testing kit is sharing his experience.
Andrew Turner, 70, didn’t have any symptoms of bowel cancer before his diagnosis.
But the father-of-two used a test-at-home kit, which is sent out through the post to all men and women aged between 60 and 74.
He used the test and was shocked when he discovered his results were ‘abnormal’ in February last year.
Further tests revealed he did have bowel cancer, but thanks to that test, which caught the cancer early, he is now free of the disease following surgery at Queen Alexandra Hospital.
Mr Turner, from Hayling Island, said: ‘People think it will never happen to them, but of course it can.
‘I never had any symptoms, and I’m so glad I took that test.
‘It means I can now live a normal life.
‘My experience has encouraged my friends to take the test, and I would say to anyone who is having symptoms, go and get checked out.
‘The earlier it’s caught, the better.’
The kit that is posted out is a simple way for people to collect small stool samples.
This is then wiped on a medical card, which you then send for testing in a hygienically sealed, prepaid envelope.
There are detailed instructions with each kit.
The results of the test are sent back within two weeks.
All men and women aged 60 to 74 are invited to carry out a faecal occult blood test at home.
To find out more, call 0800 707 60 60.