Bowel cancer does not discriminate. It affects both men and women from all backgrounds and the risk increases if you are over the age of 50 years. Last year there were almost 17,000 new cases diagnosed. If detected early, however, the majority of these can be successfully treated.  

June is Bowel Cancer Awareness month – an important time to talk about this serious disease.  

With the recent situation around COVID-19, there have been concerns raised about people not contacting their GPs if they notice something unusual with their healthBut, when it comes to bowel health, it is critical to seek medical advice early if you are concerned.  

As well as age, there are a number of other risk factors for bowel cancer including lifestyle, health and family history. Bowel cancer usually begins as small growths on the bowel wall which, if left untreated, can grow into the deeper layers and spread to other parts of the body. In most cases, it remains contained to the bowel for a long period before spreading, which is why early detection is so important. 

Symptoms include changes in bowel habits, bleeding from the rectum or blood in stools, abdominal pain, cramping or bloating, weight loss or unexplained fatigue. In young people, the signs are often dismissed. But remember that not everyone with these symptoms will have bowel cancer.  

The screening process involves a faecal test and is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of bowel cancer. Everyone over the age of 50 with a Medicare card is automatically registered for the screening program and a test will be sent in the post – don’t put this in the drawer and forget about it! It’s important to take the initial test and again every two years after that.  

Please help to raise the awareness and ask loved ones over 50 if they have been screened. Let’s talk about it so we can all tackle this one together. 

Mel Ottaway is Executive Manager, Services for Older People