A bowel cancer screening kit could save your life, so use it - Steve Cardownie

We all got the news we were waiting for when we learned that one of our friends had undergone successful bowel cancer surgery and that he was now convalescing at home.

Bowel cancer, sometimes called colon or rectal cancer, is one of the most common types of cancer in the UK with around 4,000 cases in Scotland every year. Almost nine out of ten people with bowel cancer are over the age of 60 and the associated symptoms of blood in the stools, a change in bowel habit – such as more frequent, looser stools and abdominal pain – are more important to deal with as people get older, particularly if simple treatment is ineffective.

The symptoms themselves are very common and do not mean that cancer is present, indeed most people who exhibit such symptoms do not have bowel cancer – but it is easy to check.

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The nhsinform.scot website states that, if you visit your local surgery, “Your doctor will probably carry out a simple examination of your tummy and bottom to make sure you have no lumps. They may also arrange for a simple blood test to check for iron deficiency anaemia. This can indicate whether there is any bleeding from your bowel that you haven’t been aware of. In some cases, your doctor may decide it is best for you to have a simple test in hospital to make sure there is no serious cause for your symptoms. Make sure you return to your doctor if your symptoms persist or keep coming back after stopping treatment, regardless of their severity or your age.”

The screening test detects up to 85 per cent of all bowel cancers

I have participated in the bowel cancer screening programme along with another half a million men and women in Scotland between the ages of 50 and 74, (although over-75s can request a kit) as early detection can often lead to a cure, indeed you’re 14 times more likely to survive bowel cancer if it is discovered early.

The aim of the test is to “find bowel cancer at an early stage in people with no symptoms and other changes in the bowel, such as pre-cancerous growths called polyps.” The bowel screening kits are sent out by post to home addresses every two years and after following simple instructions and returning the sample in a special pre-paid envelope, the results are sent back soon thereafter. The screening test detects most (up to 85 per cent) but not all bowel cancers so it is very effective.

Unfortunately, there are still some people who are not participating in the programme and this is particularly so in deprived areas. Latest statistics from the two-year period from 1 May 2019 to 30 April 2021 demonstrate that uptake was the highest in the programme’s history and was higher in females (67 per cent) than males (63 per cent) although both were above the Health Improvement Scotland standard of 60 per cent. However, there was a 20 percentage point uptake gap between the most (53 per cent) and the least (73 per cent) deprived quartiles. So, still some work to be done to encourage participation – more so in deprived areas.

However, if you are sent the bowel screening kit- do yourself a favour and complete the simple test and return it forthwith – it might just save your life!