Bowel cancer very treatable if caught early

People need to know signs and symptoms
  • Deborah Condon

Bowel cancer is ‘extremely treatable' if caught early, so it is essential that people can recognise the signs and symptoms of the disease, the Irish Cancer Society (ICS) has said.

April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month and during this time, the ICS will be working to raise awareness of the disease, which is the most common cancer diagnosed in Ireland.

Around 2,500 people are newly diagnosed every year and around 1,000 people die annually, making it the second most common cause of cancer death in this country.

According to the ICS, bowel cancer is the most sought after topic on its website, with more people looking for information on it than any other type of cancer.

"Bowel cancer usually occurs in people over 60 years of age and is often diagnosed in the later stages. However, if bowel cancer is caught early, it is extremely treatable. During the month of April, the society will be campaigning to make people aware of the signs and symptoms," explained Joan Kelly, cancer support manager with the ICS.

As part of this awareness campaign, the ICS has developed a simple online bowel health checker. It is a short quiz designed to inform people about the various risks, signs and symptoms of bowel cancer. Once completed, there is a printout you can take to your doctor if required. The quiz can be accessed here

Meanwhile, the ICS is also highlighting the importance of availing of the State's free bowel screening programme, BowelScreen, which is available to people aged between 60 and 69.

"In its first screening round from October 2012 to December 2015, BowelScreen had a screening uptake rate of just four in 10 people, meaning an average of six in 10 were not taking up the offer of screening. Screening is vital in diagnosing cancers early and we need to see it as a central part of a healthy lifestyle. If we're eligible for free screening, we should take it up," Ms Kelly said.

The ICS is also reminding people that while bowel cancer is more commonly associated with people over the age of 60, it can occur at any age. Andrew Jones is 38 and is a bowel cancer survivor from Dublin. He was diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer in 2013.

"I just couldn't believe it when I got the news. I had been experiencing some abdominal pain but I really thought it was something minor. What followed that diagnosis was a year of treatment and sickness and it was a huge challenge to beat the disease.

"Thankfully I have come out the other side, but it is absolutely essential that we do more to raise awareness of this cancer and encourage people to go to their doctor if they are experiencing any of the symptoms. For me, it was abdominal pain that I had put down to too much coffee," he explained.

He said that he is living proof that bowel cancer is ‘very treatable, but the earlier it is caught, the better'.

"If you get a letter calling you for your bowel screening, just go. Take it from someone who has actually been through bowel cancer," he added.

Symptoms of bowel cancer can include:

-A change in your normal bowel motions, such as diarrhoea or constipation
-Feeling you have not emptied your bowel fully after a motion
-Pain or discomfort in your abdomen (tummy) or back passage
-Trapped wind or fullness in your tummy
-Weight loss
-Fatigue and breathlessness
-Rectal bleeding or blood in the stools

While these symptoms can signal other complaints, you should have them checked out, especially if they go on for longer than four to six weeks.

For more information on bowel cancer, click here
For more information on BowelScreen, click here
To speak to a cancer nurse about bowel cancer, call the ICS Cancer Nurseline on 1800 200 700 or email


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