Bowel cancer checks hit a record-high following Dame Deborah’s campaign

Bowel cancer checks hit a record-high following Dame Deborah's campaign
© iStock/choja

The NHS has confirmed record numbers of people attending bowel cancer checks following the awareness campaign by Dame Deborah James.

Dame Deborah James campaigned for more public awareness of bowel cancer to remind the public of common symptoms such as blood in poo and encourage people to carry out bowel cancer checks before she passed away from the disease in June.

Bowel cancer is a general term for cancer starting in the large bowel. It is one of the most common cancers diagnosed in the UK, with symptoms including persistent blood in poo, persistent change in your bowel habit, and persistent lower abdominal pain. In the UK, everyone aged 60 to 74 is eligible for an at-home bowel cancer check kit.

Record number of bowel cancer checks

Between May and July 2022, referrals for suspected lower gastro-intestinal cancers reached record levels, with over 170,500 people referred for bowel cancer checks during this period. In the same period last year, these statistics have increased by over 30,000 and almost 80,000 higher than the same period two years ago.

NHS Digital released data showing the latest referral figures for bowel cancer checks, and they highlight the impact of Dame Deborah’s campaign and the NHS Help Us, Help You campaign. Referrals for bowel cancer checks hit a record high in the second week of July, up 60% on pre-pandemic levels.

In the last three months, the NHS website experienced almost 200,000 more estimated visitors to the website for the symptoms of bowel cancer compared to the same period last year.

The NHS Long Term Plan focuses on ensuring that three-quarters of cancers will be diagnosed at stages one or two by 2028, boosting the number of people who survive cancer for five years or more by 55,000 people.

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.”

Driving early diagnostic initiatives

The lifesaving campaigns by the NHS and early diagnosis initiatives have initiated record levels of cancer referrals over the last 16 months, reaching 121% of pre-pandemic levels in May 2022.

This increased demand has led to the NHS implementing new diagnostic services, including mobile clinics and cancer symptom hotlines. The services aim to diagnose and treat people as early as possible to give them a better chance of survival.

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “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.”


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