Healthy Living: Big rise in male bowel cancer diagnosis

Simon Burgess, of Dinnington, who is having treatment for bowel cancer.
Simon Burgess, of Dinnington, who is having treatment for bowel cancer.
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THE figures are alarming and they spell out a clear message - men need to be aware of the signs of bowel cancer.

According to new statistics from charity Cancer Research UK, rates of the deadly disease have risen by nearly 30 per cent in the last 35 years, while women have seen an increase of only six per cent.

The reasons for the rise, and the difference between men and women, are unknown - but doctors are reminding people to look out for the telltale signs of the illness, which can all too easily be explained away as a more innocent condition, as part of Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, running throughout April.

It took six months of worrying about his symptoms before 36-year-old Simon Burgess, from Dinnington, received a diagnosis.

The transport manager, who lives with his wife, Nikki, first suspected something was wrong when he went on a skiing holiday in February last year, and noticed that he was passing blood.

Simon was also suffering from an infection at the time, which tended to mask the symptoms, but when they persisted he went to see his GP, who recommended monitoring the situation for a month and returning to the surgery if the problem didn’t go away.

But thanks to his own determination, and a job change to one that brought private healthcare, Simon was able to uncover the underlying reason for the bleeding.

A colonoscopy at the Thornbury Hospital in Ranmoor indicated a cancerous tumour, which was confirmed by an MRI scan. Simon was also found to have 10 to 12 polyps - small growths on the inner lining of the bowel which can turn cancerous.

Last November he underwent surgery at Thornbury to take away the tumour, and he is set to undergo chemotherapy until June to make sure is clear of cancer, which luckily had not spread to Simon’s lungs or liver.

Simon said his surgeon is confident the cancer has been removed.

“All you can do is make sure that it’s gone and it’s not going to come back,” he added.

He also said he thought there was ‘something lacking in the process’ of visiting a GP with symptoms.

“Too often, they are put down to causes such as stress or piles. From the start, the emphasis should be on finding out whether it is bowel cancer. It can be especially worrying and dangerous for people aged under 50, as bowel cancer is often associated with older people,” said Simon.

Professor Matthew Seymour, director of the National Cancer Research Network, said: “We know the risk of bowel cancer increases as we get older and, since we’re all living longer, it’s no surprise to see that the number of people getting the disease is rising.

“But when we look at the figures and take people’s age into account, we still see that the risk of bowel cancer has gone up in men in the last 35 years. It’s important to find out what’s behind the rise and what we can do about it.

“The good news is that, thanks to research, we have seen huge improvements in bowel cancer survival over the last 40 years.

“It’s this research that’s led to better drugs to treat the disease, improved surgical techniques, the use of more radiotherapy and the introduction of screening to spot the disease earlier, when it is most effectively treated.” Meanwhile Dr Julie Sharp, senior science information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “Bowel cancer survival rates have doubled over the last 40 years and our work is at the heart of this progress.

“Our researchers have played a starring role in finding new ways to diagnose and treat bowel cancer.

“Detecting the disease early is helping to save thousands of lives.

“And many of the risk factors for bowel cancer are well understood - diet, weight, physical activity, alcohol consumption, and smoking.

“The national bowel screening programme has been important in picking up cancer in its earlier stages, when treatment is more likely to be successful. England is in the process of introducing the bowel scope test, marking another step towards giving people the best possible chance of beating cancer.”

The NHS is set to introduce a one-off ‘flexi-scope’ test to the existing bowel screening programme for all men and women when they reach 55. It involves using a camera and light at the end of a flexible tube to detect cancer or pre-cancerous growths in the lower parts of the bowel.

This is in addition to bowel screening kits people receive in the post, which look for hidden traces of blood in stools.

Family link evidence

According to Cancer Research UK, rates of bowel cancer climbed from 45 cases per 100,000 men in 1975-77 to 58 cases in 2008-10.

In the same time period, cases have only increased in women from 35 to 37 per 100,000.

The largest rise in those diagnosed has been among people in their 60s and 70s.

The charity says bowel cancer survival is improving year on year, with half of all patients living for at least 10 years.

There is evidence that bowel cancer can run in families - if you have one close relative with a history of bowel cancer, your risk of developing the disease is doubled.

Other possible contributary factors include a meat-heavy diet, smoking, drinking, obesity and inactivity.

Symptoms include bleeding from the bottom, blood in faeces, a change in normal bowel habit of three weeks or more, extreme tiredness, unexplained weight loss or a pain or lump in the stomach.