NHS bowel cancer checks hit record high thanks to Dame Deborah James | The Sun

DAME Deborah James has driven a record number of people to get bowel cancer checks on the NHS.

The Sun columnist was aged 35 when she was diagnosed, and spent the five years till her death on June 28 fearlessly campaigning.


The mum-of-two made it her mission to "break the poo taboo", encouraging people to get any strange bowel signs and symptoms checked out.

According to the NHS, between the months of May and July, 170,500 people referred for checks for suspected lower gastro-intestinal cancers.

It is up over 30,000 compared to the same period in 2021, and nearly 80,000 higher than the same period two years ago.

Referrals for bowel cancer hit an all-time high in the second week of July, shortly after Dame Deborah’s death, up 60 per cent on pre-pandemic levels.

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The last three months also saw almost 200,000 more visitors to the NHS website to check symptoms of the disease.

These include changes to your poo, blood in poo, stomach pains and weight loss. 

It comes after NHS statistics published on Thursday revealed that in June 2022, 96,774 people living in England were on the waiting list for bowel investigations.

It compares to 87,836 people waiting this time last year.

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The figures show that more and more people are coming forward with their concerns and being referred for life-saving tests.

Health 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 she has inspired tens of thousands of people to come forward and get checked."

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.

“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.”

Early diagnosis is life-saving.

Genevieve Edwards, chief executive at Bowel Cancer UK said: "Bowel cancer is treatable and curable, especially if diagnosed early. 

“Nearly everyone diagnosed at the earliest stage will survive bowel cancer, but this drops significantly as the disease develops."

Ms Edwards said the spotlight on bowel cancer has never been so bright thanks to Deborah's campaigning.

"As she would always say ‘make sure you check your poo’.”

However, the charity has warned that more needs to be done to ensure the NHS is able to provide more bowel cancer tests to meet demand.

Waiting lists far outweigh the number of appointments available – meaning Brits will have to wait even longer for a referral.

Of the 96,774 people waiting for tests in June, 37 per cent had to wait more than six weeks, and 21 per cent had to wait more than 13 weeks.

Bowel cancer is one of the UK’s most common cancers, with 43,000 cases and 17,000 deaths every year.

The NHS sends stool sample collection kits to over-50s in England so labs can check people’s poo for signs of blood – a possible sign of a tumour.

In early May, Dame Deborah revealed she had stopped active treatment and was receiving end-of-life care at her parents’ home in Woking, Surrey, with her husband and their two children on hand.

The podcaster was diagnosed in 2016 and kept her one million Instagram followers up to date with her treatments.

Her candid posts about her progress and diagnosis, including videos of her dancing her way through treatment, won praise from the public and media alike.

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Alongside Lauren Mahon and Rachael Bland, she launched the You, Me And The Big C podcast in 2018.

She was made a dame, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying: “If ever an honour was richly deserved, this is it.”

The signs of bowel cancer you need to know – remember BOWEL

  1. B:Bleeding

There are several possible causes of bleeding from your bottom, of blood in your poo.

Bright red blood could come from swollen blood vessels, haemorrhoids or piles, in your back passage.

Dark red or black blood could come from your bowel or stomach.

Blood in your stools is one of the key signs of bowel cancer, so it’s important to mention it to your doctor so they can investigate.

2. O: Obvious change in loo habits

It’s important to tell your GP if you have noticed any changes in your bowel habits, that lasts three weeks or longer.

It’s especially important if you have also noticed signs of blood in your poo.

You might notice you need to go to the loo more often, you might have looser stools or feel like you’re not going enough or fully emptying your bowels.

Don’t be embarrassed, your GP will have heard a lot worse! Speak up and get it checked.

3. W: Weight loss

This is less common than the other symptoms, but an important one to be aware of. If you’ve lost weight and don’t really know why, it’s worth mentioning to your GP.

You may not feel like eating, feel sick, bloated and not hungry.

4. E: Extreme tiredness

Bowel cancer that causes bleeding can cause a lack of iron in the body – anaemia. If you develop anaemia you’re likely to feel tired and your skin might look pale.

5. L: Lump or pain

As with lots of other forms of cancer, a lump or pain can be a sign of bowel cancer.

It’s most likely you’ll notice a pain or lump in your stomach or back passage

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