The Public Health Agency (PHA) is using Bowel Cancer Awareness Month this month to encourage those eligible to use the free home bowel screening kits, and to raise awareness of the early signs and symptoms of the disease.
Bowel cancer is one of the most common cancers in Northern Ireland and over 400 people die from the disease each year. However, the good news is that early detection can make a real difference as to whether someone with bowel cancer survives.
Men and women aged between 60 and 74 have the opportunity to take part in the bowel cancer screening programme. Those eligible for screening receive a test kit in the post at the home address provided by their GP. The kit is used to detect traces of blood in the bowel motion. Most people who are tested will have no blood in their bowel motions and will be invited to repeat the screening test again in two years’ time. If any blood is detected, this indicates that further tests need to be carried out.
Dr Tracy Owen, Consultant in Public Health Medicine at the PHA, said: “Being asked to use the home screening kit for bowel cancer can be daunting and embarrassing, as no one likes to talk about their bowel motions, and collecting a sample isn’t the most pleasant thing to do. But, doing the screening test helps to find cancer at a very early stage before there are any symptoms. When detected at a very early stage, treatment for bowel cancer can be 90% successful.
“However, it is important to remember that bowel cancer can occur at any age, and symptoms can include:
* rectal bleeding or blood in your bowel motion;
* a change in bowel habit;
* unexplained weight loss;
* pain or swelling in your abdomen;
* extreme tiredness for no obvious reason.
“Many people may experience rectal bleeding or a change of bowel habit but it is important not to ignore such symptoms. While in many cases there will be a simple explanation, it is important to seek advice from your doctor as such symptoms may be an early sign of bowel cancer.
“We know that cancer, particularly bowel cancer, is not something that many of us want to think or talk about, but it is important to know that it can be treated very successfully if identified early.
“If you have any signs or symptoms, or you receive the screening test kit in the post, take action – it could save your life.”
For more information about cancer signs and symptoms visit:
For more information on Northern Ireland screening programmes visit: