Healthy Living: Bowel screening kit’s an ‘absolute must’ and that’s the bottom line

healthmainsd'No. 32 - is a pic of three cancer survivors. Chris (in the middle) is the patient I was going to write up a case study on. His cancer got picked up via the screening tests that patients 60+ get sent to their homes.
healthmainsd'No. 32 - is a pic of three cancer survivors. Chris (in the middle) is the patient I was going to write up a case study on. His cancer got picked up via the screening tests that patients 60+ get sent to their homes.
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Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK - with around 300 new cases in Sheffield each year.

A RETIRED Sheffield teacher is using his experiences of cancer to support other people through the illness - and encourage everyone to be aware. Sarah Dunn spoke to Chris Searle about his battle with bowel cancer, as the country marks a national awareness month into the condition.

healthmainsd'No. 36 - is a pic of Alan (one of the cancer survivors) and his wife - who both work as volunteers for the Sheffield Awareness of Bowel Cancer (ABC) group (in fact they all do, and they're all keen to help others recognise the signs and symptoms).

healthmainsd'No. 36 - is a pic of Alan (one of the cancer survivors) and his wife - who both work as volunteers for the Sheffield Awareness of Bowel Cancer (ABC) group (in fact they all do, and they're all keen to help others recognise the signs and symptoms).

CHRIS Searle appreciated the importance of a cancer screening programme, even before it helped him get diagnosed with the disease.

A few years before the home-testing kit landed on the doormat of his Totley home, he had fought - and won - a fight against prostate cancer.

It meant the 67-year-old had no hesitation in completing the stool test and getting it sent off for screening. The kits are delivered to everyone between the ages of 60 and 74, with people urged to take part to ensure anything abnormal found in the results can be followed up with a proper medical examination.

Chris said: “I didn’t need to be convinced to take part and followed the instructions that came with the test, sent it back and got my results really quickly.

“They’d found something and asked me to complete another test and then called me in for a colonoscopy.”

The procedure involves using a camera to examine the colon and part of the small bowel to find out if there is anything abnormal or alarming.

In Chris’ case, medics made a discovery of a polyp - an abnormal growth of tissue - which led to the cancer diagnosis.

Within just 10 days he was in hospital having surgery to remove the affected part of his colon.

“I was back home a week later,” Chris, a former teacher and university lecturer, said.

“It was incredible really – how quickly it all happened. I didn’t really have any complications and I was back at work after a month and playing cricket again after just six weeks.”

He said he was full of praise for the care he received during this time - and is living life to the full now, seven years after his treatment.

Chris said: “I consider myself very lucky, but I’ve always been strong and the NHS was at its very best at every part of the process.

“I’m full of admiration for everyone who was involved in my care – right from the screening team through to the staff at the Northern General Hospital.

“I know that it’s all part of a national screening programme, but the local nurses and doctors in Sheffield were really quite brilliant. I now have regular check-ups and I’m active and feel fit. I walk everywhere and try and eat healthy. It hasn’t blighted my life or given me any problems since.”

He is also keen to give something back - supporting other people going through similar experiences and spreading the message about the importance of the bowel cancer screening programme.

He, along with a host of others including fellow cancer survivor Alan Osborne and his wife Pamela, volunteer with the Sheffield Awareness of Bowel Cancer or ABC group raising awareness of the disease.

Their work is important because although the condition is one of the country’s most deadly, it is also one of the most treatable if it is caught early, making detecting the first signs even more important.

Chris said: “What I say to people is that the test is a life saver.

“If you’ve got a polyp, like I had, it’s the only way you’re likely to know early on. I didn’t have any of the usual symptoms and was very surprised when I got my test result - I thought I was okay - it was only the screening that showed there was a problem.

“It’s vital to detect bowel cancer early, the earlier you find out the more chance you’re giving yourself. If you don’t get tested it will be more complex to deal with later on.

“No-one wants surgery, but it’s possible to detect the cancer and get rid of it, and then get on with your life. If you’ve got something undetected like I had and it’s left to grow, your life and the lives of those you love will get even more complicated than they might have been.”

Joanne Coy, public health specialist at NHS Sheffield, re-enforced his message - and urged people not to be embarrassed.

“We know that the NHS bowel cancer screening programme helps save lives, by helping to spot some of the symptoms early on,” she said. “We also know some people are embarrassed about taking the test or worried about the results.

“If anyone is worried, unsure, or has any questions about bowel cancer screening, I’d encourage them to call the NHS helpline - 0800 707 60 60. They’ll be able to give you more information and answer questions about the screening.

“Also, remember the screening test is taken at a point in time, so if you experience any of the signs or symptoms be vigilant and speak to your GP - whether you’ve taken the test before or not. If anyone has lost their test kit or is over 74, they can phone the NHS helpline to request one on 0800 707 60 60.

“I understand people can be embarrassed about talking to their GP about this, but please don’t be. Doctors have seen many people, many symptoms and many bottoms!”

Chris added: “For me the screening is an absolute must and if anyone’s embarrassed I encourage them not to be. You complete the simple test by yourself at home and it takes minutes. For most people the test results come back quickly and are nothing to worry about - but for me it saved my life.”

BOWEL CANCER factfile

Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK - with around 300 new cases in Sheffield each year.

It can affect both men and women and is more common in people over the age of 60.

Over 90 per cent of people whose bowel cancer was detected early will live for at least five years, compared with only seven per cent who were diagnosed at a late stage.

The NHS Bowel Cancer Screening programme is now in its fourth year in Sheffield.

Everyone aged 60-74 and registered with a GP is invited to complete a screening test kit. You need to collect two small samples from three separate stools and post them back in the sealed envelop for testing. Screening tests are simple to do in the privacy of your own home.

The NHS Bowel Cancer Screening is 0800 707 6060 or visit www.cancerscreening.nhs.uk/bowel/index.html for more information

Symptoms to look out for if they last more than three weeks include: bleeding from the rectum or blood in stools; change in your normal bowel habit; pain in the abdomen; unexplained weight loss; increased tiredness or breathlessness.