Back to news

Do you know the symptoms of bowel cancer?


Every 13 minutes someone in the UK is diagnosed with bowel cancer. It is the fourth most common cancer in the UK and the second biggest cancer killer in the UK, with more than 16,100 deaths each year.

April is bowel cancer awareness month. GPs at NHS Southwark Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) want to reassure residents that there really is no reason to feel embarrassed to talk to them about your bowels.


Taking part in the bowel cancer screening programme is the best way to detect bowel cancer early. Despite this, only half the people who receive the screening test actually return it. Currently, everyone between the ages of 60 and 69 registered with a GP is offered a bowel cancer screening every two years. People in this age group will automatically be sent an invitation in the post, then their screening kit. The screening doesn’t take long and is done in the privacy of your own home. It is important that your GP has your correct name and address for you to receive this. If you have any questions about screening or are concerned you have missed your invitation, just ask your GP.

Screening plays an important part in the fight against bowel cancer because the earlier the cancer is diagnosed, the greater the chance it can be cured completely. The problem is that far too few people with bowel cancer are diagnosed in the early stages. Some people find it uncomfortable to discuss the symptoms or simply don’t know what they are.

Local GP and clinical lead for cancer at NHS Southwark CGG, Dr Emily Gibbs, said: “As GPs, we talk to patients about lots of health problems, so please don’t feel embarrassed. Telling us about changes in your bowels could help us detect cancers at an early stage.”

Who is at risk?

In the UK, 95% of people diagnosed with bowel cancer are over the age of 50. Having a family history of bowel cancer can increase your risk, as can having inflammatory bowel disease or type 2 diabetes.

Although bowel cancer usually occurs in older people, more people under 50 are being diagnosed every year.

Lowering the risk

A few small changes to your diet and lifestyle will reduce your risk of developing bowel cancer.

  • Keeping active – 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, 5 times a week
  • Keep to a healthy body weight, especially trying to reduce abdominal (tummy) fat
  • Avoid processed meats such as ham, bacon, sausages, burgers, salami - an occasional treat rather than every day
  • Try to limit the amount of red meat to no more than 500g (cooked weight) a week
  • Maintain a diet high in fibre e.g. wholegrains such as brown rice and granary bread
  • At least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day
  • Cutting out cigarettes and reducing the amount of alcohol you drink

For more information on screening and symptoms visit or call 0800 707 6060.

If you’d like to know more about bowel cancer awareness month visit