COLUMN: Dr Know offers best advice for avoiding bowel cancer and spotting early signs

News Desk (31 March, 2016)

A few small changes to your diet and lifestyle will help reduce your risk of developing bowel cancer but it is vital to arrange a screening at your first suspicion

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Every 13 minutes someone in the UK is diagnosed with bowel cancer.

It’s an alarming statistic. The problem is that far too few people with bowel cancer are diagnosed in the early stages. We know some people feel uncomfortable talking to their GP about the symptoms or simply don’t know what they are. April is bowel cancer awareness month and a great opportunity to get talking about our bowels!

As a GP, I speak to patients about lots of health problems. There really is no reason to feel embarrassed talking to your doctor about anything. Telling us about changes in your bowels could help us detect cancers at an early stage.

Taking part in the bowel cancer screening programme is the best way to detect bowel cancer early. The earlier the cancer is diagnosed, the greater the chance it can be cured completely. Despite this, only half the people who receive the screening test actually return it. At the moment, if you’re between the ages of 60 and 69 and are registered with a GP you will be offered a bowel cancer screening every two years. People in this age group will automatically be sent an invitation in the post, then their screening kit. The screening doesn’t take long and can be done in the privacy of your own home. Just make sure your GP has your correct name and address for you to receive this.

If you’re not sure about the symptoms of bowel cancer, here’s what to look out for. If you notice bleeding from your bottom and/or blood in your poo, a change in bowel habit lasting three weeks or more, unexplained weight loss, extreme tiredness for no obvious reason, or a pain or lump in your tummy – book an appointment with your GP. You may experience one some or none of these but if things don’t feel right – go and see your doctor.

A few small changes to your diet and lifestyle will help reduce your risk of developing bowel cancer – as well as keeping you healthy in general.

Try to keep active – around 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, 5 times a week is a good target to aim for. Your diet is important. Make processed meats such as ham, bacon, burgers, salami and sausages an occasional treat rather than every day. Also try to incorporate more fibre into your diet by eating wholegrains like brown rice and granary bread. Limiting the amount of red meat you eat to no more than 500g a week, having at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, and drinking and smoking less can also help reduce the risk.

For more information on screening and symptoms ask your GP, visit www.nhs.uk or call 0800 707 6060.

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