Tommy Walsh and Alan Titchmarsh join NHS campaign to get country talking about bowel cancer screening

TV presenters Tommy Walsh and Alan Titchmarsh have joined forces with the NHS to support a first-of-its-kind cancer awareness campaign.

In a new film discussing the importance of bowel cancer screening, the famous faces will urge those eligible to return their lifesaving bowel cancer screening home tests.

Recent data showed almost one third (30%) of people do not return the potentially lifesaving tests.

The film will be launched across NHS social media channels with Tommy and Alan answering questions – written on toilet roll – on how the NHS bowel cancer screening programme in England works.

The pair remark how the public “owes it to your family and yourself” to complete the quick test which can help detect the early signs of bowel cancer.

The video is part of the NHS “Help Us Help You” campaign, which tackles the fears surrounding a cancer diagnosis, and aims to get more men and women diagnosed at the earliest stage where bowel cancer survival rates are nine times higher.

It follows a new survey that found nearly nine in 10 (89%) of eligible 56-74-year-olds would be likely to take a bowel cancer screening test if it could help find signs of cancer at an earlier stage, but one in five say they wouldn’t complete one because they would be too embarrassed to look at their poo.

NHS chiefs want to dispel the stigma surrounding the test and increase uptake with a TV and radio campaign launched last month urging men and women who receive the test to “put it by the loo, don’t put it off.”

The NHS bowel cancer screening programme involves using a Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) kit, which detects small amounts of blood in poo – that would not be visible to people – before someone may notice anything is wrong.

A tiny sample of poo is collected using the plastic stick provided and is placed in a sample bottle before being sent back to the NHS, free of charge, for laboratory analysis.

More than half a million FIT kits are posted out each month to eligible people, who are automatically sent a kit every two years if they are registered with a GP practice and live in England.

NHS England is currently in the process of lowering the age of men and women that receive the test to include all over 50s by 2025, which the programme has already expanded to also include 56-year-olds and most 58-year-olds.

National Director of Screening and Vaccinations, Steve Russell, said: “It is fantastic to have Alan and Tommy shine a spotlight on our NHS bowel cancer screening programme and to use their star power to get the country to put the test by the loo and to not put it off.

“There is absolutely no need to feel embarrassed about poo and our survey shows most of us would be happy to take a screening test from the comfort of our own home to try to find early cancer, so I hope everyone who receives one of these quick and easy tests, completes it as soon as they can.”

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, but we know that screening increases the chances of early diagnosis which can prevent deaths from this devastating disease.

“The NHS’ first national campaign on bowel cancer screening means more people will be encouraged to use the home testing kit when they receive it. Screening makes it more likely that bowel cancer will be successfully detected and treated.

‘’Together with the NHS we are continuing to extend the screening offer to those aged 50-74. I urge everyone who receives a kit to use it.’’

National Cancer Director, Dame Cally Palmer, said: “The entire country fell in love with the passionate campaigning of Dame Deborah James last year and her tireless work to bring bowel cancer to the forefront of health conversation.

“Her legacy continues on through these famous faces who are just as passionate as she is and we are already seeing incredible responses to our cancer awareness campaigns with record treatments and referrals, so do not delay in returning your kit as your next poo could save your life.”

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, and the second biggest cancer killer.

Data shows 43,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year and 16,500 people die from it annually – around 45 people per day.

Gardener and TV presenter, Alan Titchmarsh said: “We know the earlier you detect cancer, the far greater your chances of survival. That’s why this campaign is so important – the NHS bowel cancer screening test can detect cancer even before you notice anything wrong.

“It’s quick to complete and if you do it at soon as it arrives, you can send it off the same day, and job done! I really urge everyone to do it – you owe it to your family, and you owe it to yourself.”

TV personality, Tommy Walsh said: “As a cancer survivor myself, I know how important diagnosing cancer early is. But I didn’t know that detecting bowel cancer at the earliest stage makes you up to nine times more likely to be successfully treated.

“So remember, if you are sent an NHS bowel cancer screening test, do it as soon as it arrives in the post! Put it by the loo, and don’t put it off.”

TV doctor Dr Sarah Jarvis, who is also supporting the campaign, said: “The campaign is all about encouraging those who are sent an NHS bowel cancer screening test in the post to complete it, so that we can detect bowel cancer at the earliest stage.

“It’s a big concern that almost one third of people who were sent an NHS bowel cancer screening test in England last year did not go on to complete it. But it’s so vital that people don’t put off doing their bowel cancer screening tests if they receive them in the post, as your next poo could save your life.”

One person who stresses the importance of returning your bowel screening kit is John Daly, 60, from London, who was initially put off with the idea of collecting samples of his poo.

But John quickly got over it after realising the value in doing the test and within a few weeks of sending it off, he was told there were no abnormalities.

John said: “The entire process was extremely quick, and I cannot stress enough how reassuring it is knowing I am clear, if people like Dame Deborah James, Alan Titchmarsh and Tommy Walsh have no problem talking about poo then why should we?

“This campaign is fantastic in raising awareness about cancer and while it might be uncomfortable to think about your poo, it is far better than putting it off and potentially seeing cancer progress where survival rates can decrease.”

Symptoms of bowel cancer can include:

  • a persistent change in bowel habit such as pooing more often, with looser, runnier poo
  • blood in the poo
  • abdominal pain, discomfort or bloating always brought on by eating

Cancer Research UK’s head of health and patient information, Dr Julie Sharp, said: “We hope this campaign shows people just how easy the bowel cancer screening home test kit is to do.

“The test now only requires one tiny sample of poo and could result in a life-saving early diagnosis. Don’t put it off – spotting cancer early can make all the difference.”

Genevieve Edwards, Chief Executive at Bowel Cancer UK, said: “Almost 43,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year in the UK and it’s our second biggest cancer killer, but currently fewer than 40% of people are diagnosed at the earlier stages when it’s easier to treat.

“Screening is one of the best ways to detect the disease early, so it’s brilliant to see celebrities like Alan and Tommy getting on board helping to raise awareness and encouraging others to have open conversations about bowel cancer.

People concerned that they may have missed their invitation or have lost or thrown away their kit can call the free bowel cancer screening helpline for advice on 0800 707 60 60. Information on bowel cancer and the screening programme can be found at: