Deborah Alsina: Early diagnosis is vital to reduce cancer deaths

Bowel Cancer UK launched a report this week, Spotlight on Scotland, to urge Scottish Parliamentarians to raise awareness of bowel cancer to help reduce the number of people it kills each year in Scotland.

Bowel cancer is a major public health concern in Scotland, which has a higher rate of bowel cancer than most other countries in the developed world. It is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in both men and women, with approximately 4,000 people being diagnosed each year, which equates to more than 75 new cases every week.

Early diagnosis is crucial to saving lives and screening plays an important role, yet uptake is still far too low at around 55 per cent. We therefore welcome the Scottish Government’s Detect Cancer Early bowel cancer campaign as an important step forward, but it is clearly not enough on its own.

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As bowel cancer symptoms can be very vague or imply more advanced disease, we must also ensure that GPs are supported to refer more people for diagnostic tests. This means there must be adequate investment in endoscopy services to meet increasing demand from screening and symptomatic services.

Improved access to bowel cancer treatments is also needed. We believe that every patient should be offered the best available treatments, based on clinical judgment and not cost, age or postcode. Patients should then be supported in making an informed choice about whether this is the right option for them.

Too many people are dying from a disease which is preventable, treatable and curable. It is therefore important that we all raise our ambitions to dramatically reduce the number of people in Scotland who die from bowel cancer. We must also help those who are diagnosed with advanced disease to live longer, better-quality lives and ensure that everyone has a positive experience of treatment and care.

At Bowel Cancer UK we are committed to working in partnership with the government, the NHS and other charities to implement the proposals outlined in our report.

• Deborah Alsina is chief executive officer of Bowel Cancer UK.