A top doctor has praised BBC news editor Jeremy Bowen for raising awareness of bowel cancer, saying his actions will help save lives, after the number of people seeking information on the disease from the official NHS website almost trebled.
Celia Ingham-Clark, Medical Director for clinical effectiveness at NHS England and a leading bowel specialist, thanked the BBC’s Middle East editor for urging people to get checked for bowel cancer, adding that testing early can be a lifesaver.
Bowen, 59, revealed this week that he has the disease and urged people to go to a doctor if they have any concerns, warning they should not “die of embarrassment”.
Bowen added: “I spoke out to encourage people to get tested. You can be cured of bowel cancer if you catch it early. Don’t be embarrassed, ask your doctor.”
His decision to speak out on Monday, which coincided with bowel cancer awareness month, helped to drive thousands of people to the NHS website’s bowel cancer information page.
There were 4,735 visits to the page on that day alone, up from 1,639 visits over the previous 24 hours and more than double last year’s average of 1,816 daily page views.
Spotting more cancers earlier when they are easier to treat, is a key part of the NHS Long Term Plan which aims to increase the numbers of cancers diagnosed at stages one and two, from half to three quarters over the next 10 years.
When bowel cancer is diagnosed at the earliest stage, more than nine out of 10 people survive for a decade or more but if it is diagnosed late, this drops to one in 20.
Currently two in five bowel cancer patients are diagnosed at stage one or two, and the NHS says checking for signs of ill health after going to the toilet, can be crucial to early diagnosis.
Celia Ingham-Clark, medical director for clinical effectiveness at NHS England and a leading bowel specialist, said: “A big thank you is owed to Jeremy Bowen for talking about his bowel cancer diagnosis and encouraging people to get tested. It’s vital to get worrying symptoms checked out as soon as possible so something serious can be ruled out, or people can be referred for testing and treatment.
“As a nation we need to stop being so prudish about poo. How often someone goes and consistency, or finding blood in poo, can be an early indicator that something isn’t right. Our trips to the toilet can give vital clues to our health which shouldn’t be ignored.”
Deborah Alsina MBE, chief executive of Bowel Cancer UK, said: “We are incredibly grateful to our Patron, Jeremy Bowen for speaking so openly about his bowel cancer diagnosis. It’s only by talking publicly about this disease and raising awareness that we can encourage more people to take action if they have concerns.
“Every year in the UK, nearly 42,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer, making it the UK’s second biggest cancer killer. Being aware of the symptoms and visiting your GP if things don’t feel right can help increase chances of an early diagnosis.
“Your doctor sees people with bowel concerns every day so there is nothing to be embarrassed about. It could save your life. It is also important that people, without symptoms, take part in the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme when invited to do so as this provides the best chance of an early diagnosis.”
NHS England is investing an extra £10 million to increase capacity to deal with the extra people coming forward for cancer testing.
Cancer survival is at record levels with the latest figures showing 10,000 more patients living for at least 12 months after diagnosis than five years earlier.
The ‘Bowen bounce’ comes after Bill Turnbull and Stephen Fry helped to increase the number of people coming forward for prostate cancer checks by talking about their own illness.
Over the past year in England, GPs referred 302,643 patients to have urgent investigations for suspected bowel cancer.
NHS England will be introducing a new bowel cancer screening test which is easier to use, and more accurate than the current test. FIT predicts bowel cancer by precisely recording the presence of any blood in just one gram of poo.
These symptoms may be a warning of a serious bowel illness:
- A change in your bowels so you poo more often than is normal for you, lasting more than two weeks
- A change in your poo so it is loose and runny, like diarrhoea, lasting more than two weeks
- Blood in your poo
- A lump in your abdomen
- Losing weight unexpectedly
- A pain in your abdomen that stops you doing your normal activities or which persists for more than a few days