Eileen Fegan talks about Bowel Colon Cancer and how to spot the signs of this si


 Bowel Cancer – Get the facts

The month of April  was  Bowel Cancer Awareness Month.  The Clinic received an unusual number of patients, very worried about this silent killer.  Eileen Fegan, Clinical Director at Solihull Health Check Clinic, talks here about this very misunderstood and dangerous disease.

Bowel Screening will help stop people dying from bowel cancer.  We can all raise awareness of bowel cancer screening this Bowel Cancer Awareness Month.   With thanks to Cancer Research UK,  discusses  the importance of diagnosing Bowel Cancer early and how to spot the signs and symptoms.

The good news is that Bowel Cancer is very treatable and the earlier it is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat.  People whose cancer is diagnosed at an early stage have a much higher chance of successful treatment than those whose cancer has become more widespread.  The majority of bowel cancer cases can be successfully treated if they are found early – that's why it is vitally important to undertake bowel screening on an annual basis.   Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is the fourth most common cancer in the UK. In 2013, 42,222 cases of bowel cancer were diagnosed. 

  • In males in the UK, bowel cancer is the third most common cancer, with around 23,000 cases diagnosed in 2013.
  • In females in the UK, bowel cancer is the third most common cancer, with around 18,200 cases diagnosed in 2013.

 At Solihull Health Check Clinic, patients undergo a very simple, non-invasive test, known as the  Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT), which is not currently offered on the NHS.   Eileen states that “this test is extremely important to patients who visit then Clinic, as it is accurate, convenient, inexpensive and most importantly, non-invasive.  This new test has prompted a rise in the uptake of bowel screening, which can only be a positive thing”.  This test  only requires one stool sample as opposed to the previous three samples (guaiac faecal occult blood test) and it uses a simpler and cleaner sampling technique.  This test is also more sensitive and efficient as it eliminates potential dietary interference and can measure very low levels of stool blood,  from bleeding colon cancers and pre-cancerous polyps.  The current NHS Bowels Screening programme has a poor uptake and has been proven to be less effective, more time consuming, inconvenient and open to inaccurate results.  Therefore, the UK National Screening Committee are in the process of recommending that the NHS consider using the FIT Bowel Screening programme for NHS patients.

This form of Bowels Screening may also pick up non-cancerous growths (polyps), which could become cancerous in the future.   Bowel cancer is treatable and curable, especially if it’s diagnosed early.   Eileen emphasises that “Nearly everyone diagnosed at the earliest stage will survive bowel cancer.  Taking part in bowel cancer screening is the best way to get diagnosed early”.


One patient said “I consider myself very lucky.  Completing the screening test was the best decision I have ever made. There is no doubt in my mind that if I hadn’t, I would not be alive today. Anyone reading this, …….should  participate in the screening programme (and) not think twice about it. Just do it.”


Bowel cancer is caused by damaged cells, which can grow uncontrollably to form a tumour.  The bowel is part of your digestive system and it’s divided into two parts: the small bowel and the large bowel. Nearly all bowel cancers are found in the large bowel, which is made up of the colon and the rectum.  The colon absorbs water and some nutrients from food as it passes through the system, leaving behind waste products. These waste products then move through the colon and the rectum before leaving the body.   There are lots of different reasons why bowel cancer develops – some of the most important factors are your diet and lifestyle choices.

In fact, scientists estimate that about half of all bowel cancer cases in the UK could be prevented through healthy lifestyle choices - that's nearly 20,000 fewer cases a year.


As with all cancers, the risk of developing bowel cancer depends on a number of factors and varies from person to person. The good news is that there are steps you can take to reduce your risk.


Fibre is an important part of a healthy diet.   It keeps everything moving through your digestive system.  We suggest that you choose wholegrain or brown bread over white bread and choose brown rice or brown pasta over white.   Breakfast should always be a high fibre meal.  Porridge and wholegrain cereals are good examples.  Fruit and vegetables are a great source of fibre as well.    We all know eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day forms part of a healthy, balanced diet.   Think about eating carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes,  a handful of grapes,  fruit skewers  and  a  couple of apples. 


Experts also know that eating processed meat increases your bowel cancer risk, as does eating a lot of red meat.  To help prevent bowel cancer, avoid processed meats as much as possible.  These are meats that have been preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding preservatives. This includes: bacon, ham, salami, sausages and burgers. These should be an occasional treat rather than every day.    Limit your red meat intake.  Have no more than 500g (cooked weight) per week. This includes: beef, pork, lamb and goat.


It is very important that you keep hydrated by drinking water throughout the day.   There’s strong evidence that drinking alcohol increases bowel cancer risk. Have alcohol free days every week and make sure you have no more than 2 to 4 units per day.  Exercise is also recommended, to maintain a healthy body weight and support good bowel help.  Try 10  minutes per day, eventually working up to 30 minutes, five times per week.


There is evidence to show that milk decreases the risk of bowel cancer. This is likely to be partly due to calcium, although there may be other components in milk that might also play a role.  Choose lower fat options, such as skimmed to semi-skimmed milk rather than full fat to help maintain a healthy weight.


Lifestyle risk factors

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Diets low in fibre
  • Diets high in red and processed meat
  • Drinking alcohol/smoking

Other risk factors

  • Age - risk increases as you get older
  • Family history of bowel cancer
  • Personal history of polyps or inflammatory bowel disease

If any of these risk factors apply to you, it does not mean that you will develop bowel cancer – it just means that your risk may be higher than average


Finally, it is very important to remember that the  majority of bowel cancer cases can be successfully treated if they are found early – that's why it is important to undertake bowel screening on an annual basis.  It is predicted that the Bowel Screening programme will save over 2,000 lives each year by 2025.   At Solihull Health Check Clinic, we undertake the Faecal Immunochemical Test, to detect for early signs of bowel/colon disease.  If you are thinking about having the test, call the clinical team at Solihull Health Check Clinic on 0121 745 7400 or go to www.solihullhealthcheckclinic.co.uk.















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