Bowel cancer is the UK’s second biggest cancer killer however it shouldn’t be because it is treatable and curable especially if diagnosed early. Jamie Bowman hears about its impact in Wales and finds out about Bowel Cancer Awareness Month which aims to ensure that by 2050, no-one will die of bowel cancer.

MORE than a quarter of people in Wales (26%) only named one of the five most common bowel cancer symptoms and a third of people (33%) were not aware of any symptoms at all, according to a poll of 4,000 UK adults commissioned by Bowel Cancer UK and Beating Bowel Cancer.

The results which have been published for Bowel Cancer Awareness Month this April also revealed only 2% of adults in Wales named the five most common symptoms of the country’s second biggest cancer killer.

The most recognisable bowel cancer symptom, which over half of people in Wales identified (56%), is spotting blood when you go for a poo (either from your bottom or in your poo). The other four remaining symptoms of bowel cancer have an alarmingly low rate of awareness including pain or lump in your tummy (13%), change of bowel habit (10%), extreme weight loss (8%) and unexplained tiredness/fatigue (3%).

The charity Bowel Cancer UK and Beating Bowel Cancer commissioned a YouGov survey to gauge awareness of the symptoms of the fourth most common cancer in Wales. In April alone 188 people in Wales will be diagnosed with bowel cancer and 77 people will die of the disease. Being aware of key symptoms and visiting your GP if things don’t feel right can help increase chances of an early diagnosis.

Bowel cancer is treatable and curable, especially if diagnosed early. Nearly everyone diagnosed at the earliest stage will survive bowel cancer but this drops significantly as the disease develops. Early diagnosis really does save lives, but only around 15% of people are diagnosed at the earliest stage of the disease.

Kelly Smith, 28, from Cheshire, was diagnosed with bowel cancer in April 2017, which has now spread to her liver meaning she is now at stage 4 of the disease.

She said: "My symptoms began during Christmas time 2016. I was in extreme pain and experiencing fatigue, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, bloating of the tummy, loss of appetite and weight loss.

"I went to the doctors about seven times because of this and the pain I was experiencing. I didn’t know my symptoms could have been bowel cancer and my doctor did not advise this either. I had no blood in my poo until just before diagnosis and my cancer blood test came back negative. I was told I had acid reflux, had scans for gall stones and then was rushed to A&E from a GP appointment with suspected appendicitis.

"I was finally referred to a consultant who discovered I was anaemic and tested me for coeliac disease, which I tested negative for. Three months passed and symptoms continued. It was affecting my job and home life.

"I was then rushed to A&E when the pain got too much to then be discharged with pain killers, an appointment for a colonoscopy and to do a stool sample. I drank the MoviPrep in order to prepare my body for the colonoscopy in hospital only to be sick again and the procedure had to be cancelled. My stool sample came back with inflammation indicators so I was referred to have an ultra sound, where the doctor then fell quiet and rushed me for a CT scan.

"I went home to then get a call saying I had to come back in to hospital as they had found an obstruction in my lower bowel. I was admitted and referred to the surgical team. I was then prepped again for a colonoscopy. When I was I was undergoing this I remember seeing a big bleeding lump, then there was panic in the room and lots of biopsies were taken. The next day I got the devastating news that I had a tumour in my bowel and it had spread to my liver and I was to undergo a right hemicolectomy the week after. In my operation my amazing surgeon Mr Khan (from Macclesfield Hospital) noticed a few of my lymph nodes didn’t look normal so he took 31 out, which later revealed the cancer had spread again as 14 of them came back cancerous.

"I’m recovering now and had my PET scan which has revealed I have no bowel cancer left and none of my lymph nodes are cancerous. It also showed the cancer hasn’t spread anymore. I’m about to undergo six months of chemotherapy to try and contain and shrink the liver 'seedlings' in order for me to be able to have an operation to remove them totally. I have not received any private health care so far.

"I’m hoping my journey is a positive one as I have a three-year-old son. I’m not married but have a long term partner and would love to share the same last name as my partner and my son. I can’t work currently and look after my son now, but this experience has brought my family and friends closer together."

Former Everton, Hereford and Tranmere midfielder Kevin Sheedy is backing the charity’s campaign to raise awareness of bowel cancer symptoms as he was diagnosed with the disease in 2012.

He said: “I noticed I was going to the toilet a lot more and then I started finding blood when I went for a poo. I remembered listening to an awareness advert I’d heard on the radio and I knew I had to book an appointment with my GP urgently.

“I was diagnosed with bowel cancer but luckily I was treated quickly. I had surgery to remove the tumour before it had spread elsewhere and I didn’t need any further treatment. The most important thing is to see your GP if you notice any symptoms. Doing that saved my life.”

Lowri Griffiths, Head of Wales at Bowel Cancer UK and Beating Bowel Cancer, said “Every day we hear from families about the devastating effects of a bowel cancer diagnosis. Our vision is that by 2050 no one will die from bowel cancer, and raising awareness of the symptoms is a key step to achieving this.

“If you experience any of the symptoms of bowel cancer or just don’t feel quite right, no matter your age, please visit your GP. Don’t worry about wasting their time. If you are worried that something is wrong, they will want to see you. Your GP may be able to put your mind at rest. If it is something serious, the earlier you get a diagnosis, the better the chance of successful treatment and cure.”

To help you raise awareness of bowel cancer, the charity is giving away free copies of their handy symptoms guide for you to share with your family and friends. Sign up now to receive your free guide here: