Thousands check for symptoms of bowel cancer following Dame Deborah James’ passing

symptoms of bowel cancer
© iStock/PonyWang

The NHS has revealed that thousands more people have searched for symptoms of bowel cancer online this week following the death of Dame Deborah James.

Dame Deborah James sadly lost her five-year battle with bowel cancer on June 28, a period in which she became a polarising campaigner for raising awareness of the disease, encouraging the public to check for symptoms of bowel cancer and trying to target the stigma around the taboo subject.

Now, the NHS has shown the magnitude of her legacy, revealing that online searches about bowel cancer symptoms have increased by 1,000% this week, demonstrating the significant impact of her blogs, podcasts, radio shows and campaigns around the subject.

What are the symptoms of bowel cancer?

Bowel cancer – otherwise known as colorectal cancer – affects the large bowel, with the majority of cases developing from pre-cancerous growths called polyps. Research from Bowel Cancer UK suggests that around 43,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer annually in the UK, with the country currently having 268,000 people living with the disease.

During their lifetime, one in 15 men and one in 18 women will be diagnosed with bowel cancer, which, if diagnosed early, is treatable and curable. However, if caught in its later stages, the chances of survival drop significantly, highlighting how crucial it is to identify symptoms of bowel cancer as early as possible.

Dame Deborah James
© iStock/Dr_Microbe

The symptoms of bowel cancer include:

  • changes in bowels habits, such as pooing more often than usual or a different consistency
  • pain in the tummy or abdominal pain, which persists for more than a few days
  • unexpected weight loss
  • unexplained fatigue

The long-lasting legacy of Dame Deborah James

Following her death, the latest figures from the NHS have disclosed that there was a tenfold increase in visits to the NHS bowel cancer webpages, rising from 2,000 to 23,274. The NHS is encouraging people not to be “prudish about poo”, as people can be embarrassed to discuss what can be symptoms of bowel cancer.

Amanda Pritchard, the Chief Executive of the NHS, said: “Dame Deborah James is an inspiration to us all – her death this week has touched the nation. People often don’t feel comfortable speaking about their cancer diagnosis and treatment, but Deborah bravely speaking out about her personal journey has prompted thousands more people to check the symptoms.  There is no doubt about it – this has been lifesaving.

“We must now continue Deborah’s fantastic work in her honour. Talking about cancer saves lives. So our message to you is – don’t be prudish about poo; get checked out if you have worrying signs or symptoms.”

Dame Cally Palmer, the National Cancer Director for NHS England, said: “Early detection of bowel cancer saves lives, and Deborah has made a difference to so many people with her extraordinary courage and spirit.

“She did the unthinkable, and through getting people to talk about this disease, she has been an inspiration to so many. We must continue what Deborah started.”

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid concluded: “Dame Deborah James has left an incredible legacy and changed the national conversation around cancer. These figures reflect the powerful and lifesaving impact she has had – inspiring countless people across the country to get informed, get checked and speak up.

“Having lost my father to bowel cancer, I know how devastating this disease can be, and we must continue to break down barriers around what she called the ‘C word’ – encouraging people to have open and honest discussions. Our upcoming 10-Year Cancer Plan will build on this with a focus on early diagnosis to help save more lives.”

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