We all have to be more open about bowel cancer

BOWEL cancer remains Scotland’s second biggest cancer killer, claiming more than 1,500 lives a year and affecting the health and wellbeing of thousands more.
Bowel cancer awareness advert from the early noughties. Picture: ContributedBowel cancer awareness advert from the early noughties. Picture: Contributed
Bowel cancer awareness advert from the early noughties. Picture: Contributed

Yet we know that nine out of ten cases of bowel cancer can be treated successfully if diagnosed and treated early.

At the moment, five-year survival rates for bowel cancer Scotland sit at about 60 per cent for both men and women.

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And while that figure is above average for the UK, and the picture has improved significantly over time, we know Scots in the most deprived communities are up to a third more likely to get some form of cancer in their lives.

Shockingly, mortality rates are 71 per cent higher in the poorest areas compared with the least deprived.

We must work harder to give everyone a fair chance of beating the disease and that’s why Beating Bowel Cancer is “Lifting the Lid” on the importance of early diagnosis for Bowel Cancer Month this April.

Scottish Government statistics show that there has been definite progress on getting more people screened thanks to the Detect Cancer Early Programme. However, at the last count, uptake of the free tests sent to everyone aged 50-75 was still too low, with just 56.1 per cent getting screened.

We all expect the government and the NHS to step up to the mark when helping to diagnose and treat conditions like bowel cancer.

However, one of the problems they face is simply that too few people talk about bowel cancer and that it’s still considered a taboo by many. Sometimes embarrassment can even stop people from getting the help they need.

Doctors and nurses can only provide the fast care that bowel cancer patients need if they are prepared to think and talk openly about a condition that can affect everyone, young and old.

That’s why Beating Bowel Cancer’s Lift the Lid campaign is urging people across Scotland to have a conversation about bowel cancer – whether it’s a chat about personal experiences of bowel cancer; encouraging someone to learn the symptoms, or encouraging someone who is worried to talk to their doctor.

Every conversation counts toward saving lives. It’s really that simple.

• Mark Flannagan is Chief Executive of Beating Bowel Cancer