Bowel cancer does not have one, easily preventable cause but living a healthy lifestyle reduces your risk as a poor diet, increased weight, alcohol and smoking all contribute. In some types there is a strong family history and those at risk are checked regularly.
The classic symptoms of bowel cancer are: persistent blood in the stools; a persistent change in your bowel habit for several weeks (particularly a looser stool); or persistent lower tummy pain, discomfort or bloating. However, recent research has shown that bowel cancer often presents with vaguer symptoms such as weight loss or tiredness which makes diagnosis more difficult. Yet if diagnosed at an early stage bowel cancel is a highly treatable disease, with a five year survival rate of over 90%. This highlights the vital importance and role of bowel cancer screening in improving outcomes.
Currently there are two types of bowel screening provided by the NHS. All men and women aged 60-74 are invited to carry out a faecal occult blood (FOB) test. Every two years, they're sent a home test kit, which is used to collect a stool sample. Some people are put off by this but in fact the test is hygienic and easy to do.
An additional one-off test called bowel scope screening is gradually being introduced in England. This is offered to men and women at the age of 55. It involves a doctor or nurse using a thin, flexible instrument to look inside the lower part of the bowel. It is thought this is very successful as it detects small growths called adenomas even before they have the chance to become cancerous.
Additionally, an improved kind of stool testing known as FIT testing, which is more sensitive and as reliable as more invasive tests, will replace FOB testing in the East of England over the next few years.
Bowel screening rates in Ipswich & East Suffolk CCG are above both the national and regional average but could still be improved, so it is crucial that people are aware of bowel cancer symptoms and send back their screening kits!
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