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NHS checks for bowel cancer hit record high

Record numbers of people have come forward for bowel cancer checks thanks to awareness raising by Dame Deborah James, the NHS has said.

Between the months of May and July, referrals for suspected lower gastro-intestinal cancers reached record levels, with over 170,500 people referred for checks during that period – up over 30,000 compared to the same period last year, and nearly 80,000 higher than the same period two years ago.

The latest referral figures published by NHS Digital show Deborah’s campaigning, along with the latest NHS Help Us, Help You campaign, had an immediate impact, with referrals in the second week of July up 60% on pre-pandemic levels.

Dame Deborah James campaigned tirelessly for more public awareness of bowel cancer, and the need to be vigilant about symptoms like blood in your poo before she sadly passed away from the disease in June.

The last three months also saw tens of thousands more people check the NHS website for the symptoms of bowel cancer – England’s fourth most common cancer, with around 37,000 new cases diagnosed each year.

person in blue long sleeve shirt holding blue plastic toy

Symptoms of bowel cancer can include blood in your poo, a change in bowel habits or tummy pain, and unexpected weight loss or fatigue – with statistics showing around nine in 10 people with bowel cancer are aged 60 or over.

National Cancer Director, Dame Cally Palmer said: ‘Thanks to the brave and relentless campaigning of Dame Deborah James, bowel cancer has come to the forefront of a national conversation on catching cancer as early as possible, and the fact that we have seen record numbers of people coming forward for bowel cancer checks shows people are taking the illness seriously and speaking to their GPs about it.

‘It is so important that we continue the work of Dame Deborah to raise awareness of bowel cancer and save more lives, so to anyone who has noticed symptoms, please do come forward.’

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay commented: ‘These figures reflect the lasting legacy of Dame Deborah James’ tireless campaigning to raise awareness about bowel cancer. Through her courage and honesty in the fight against this terrible illness, she has inspired tens of thousands more people to come forward and get checked.

‘We know that early diagnosis can help save lives, so I would encourage anyone with health concerns or symptoms to speak to their GP without delay.’

Photo by National Cancer Institute

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