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28 Jun 2022

Clinical Negligence

Bowel Babe’s inspirational efforts highlight importance of spotting bowel cancer symptoms early

Dame Deborah James has inspired millions by raising money and awareness of the symptoms of bowel cancer while receiving end-of-life care for the devastating disease. Debra King, a senior associate in our Clinical Negligence team, explains why the work of the brave and inspirational ‘Bowel Babe’ is so vitally important.

We have all been inspired by the incredible efforts of Deborah James, the 40 year-old mum-of-two who has captured the nation’s hearts, raising over £6.7 million through her Bowel Babe fund and taking the heartbreaking decision to stop active treatment and move to her parents’ home to receive end-of-life care, to spare her children the difficult memories of her spending her final days at their family home.

Despite knowing that she has very little time left, she has campaigned tirelessly to raise awareness of the symptoms of this cruel disease, as well as the processes in place to help you get an early diagnosis. Hopefully her efforts will have saved countless lives as the disease is treatable if it is caught early enough.

What is bowel cancer?

Bowel cancer, also referred to as colorectal cancer, affects the large bowel, which is made up of the colon and rectum. The cells in your body normally divide and grow in a controlled way, but when cancer develops, the cells change and can grow in an uncontrolled way.

Unfortunately, bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer that affects the UK population. Every 15 minutes somebody in the UK is diagnosed, adding up to roughly 43,000 people each year.

Bowel cancer develops from polyps (a tiny bump of cells inside the bowel). Most polyps remain benign, but about 1 in 10 will turn into cancer.

Encouragingly, bowel cancer survival is improving and has more than doubled in the last 40 years in the UK but so much depends on how early you spot the symptoms.

Diagnosing bowel cancer

If bowel cancer is caught in the early stages, there is a greater than 90% chance of a cure. This is why it is crucial to know the common symptoms. The three main symptoms are:

  • Bleeding from the bowel
  • Change in bowel habit (such as unusual episodes of diarrhea or constipation)
  • Abdominal pain or weight loss

Remember that these symptoms can also be caused by other health problems so in the majority of cases, they will not mean you have bowel cancer, but it’s always worth speaking to your doctor as soon as possible.

If you go to your GP with your concerns, they may decide to examine your tummy and bottom for lumps, arrange for a blood test, or arrange for you to have a simple test in hospital.

Causes of bowel cancer

There are many reasons why a person can have bowel cancer, including some factors – such as your family history and your age -that are unfortunately out of your control. If you have a close relative (mother or father, brother or sister) who developed bowel cancer under the age of 50, this can put you at a greater risk of developing the condition. Screening is offered to people in this situation, and you should discuss this with a GP to understand what to do next.

There are also, however, certain lifestyle habits that can increase your risk of developing bowel cancer. A diet that is high in red or processed meats, and foods low in fibre can contribute, as can being inactive, drinking alcohol or being overweight. Leading a healthy lifestyle is always encouraged, and making small changes to your habits can make a huge difference.

Screening home test kits

If you are aged 60-74 and registered with a GP, you will automatically be sent a bowel cancer screening home test kit every two years. If you are over 75 years old, you can call the free bowel cancer screening helpline on 0800 707 60 60 to request a kit.

For the screening test, you use a home test kit to collect a small sample and send it to a lab. With this sample, they can check for tiny amounts of blood. If there is any blood found, it could also be polyps, which are growths in the bowel that may eventually turn into cancer.

What treatment is available?

Bowel cancer can be treated in several different ways. Which treatment you receive will depend on where the cancer is and how far it has spread. You could be treated using surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or targeted therapies.

Getting an early diagnosis is very important, as the chance of a complete cure can depend on how far the cancer has spread.

If you are diagnosed with bowel cancer, you’ll be cared for by a multidisciplinary team. This team includes:

  • a specialist cancer surgeon
  • a radiotherapy and chemotherapy specialist (an oncologist)
  • a radiologist
  • a specialist nurse

This team can be there to offer guidance, support and help you decide what treatment is best for you.

Get in touch

Bowel cancer can impact your daily life in many different ways. If your bowel cancer has been misdiagnosed, it can make the already worrying time much worse.

At Harding Evans, we have significant experience in representing clients with clinical negligence claims against the NHS or private institutions. If you or one of your relatives has bowel cancer that was misdiagnosed and would like to speak to one of our legal experts, please get in touch on 01633 244233 or email hello@hevans.com for a no-obligation chat.

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