March marks Digestive Cancers Europe’s (DiCE) Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.
According to statistics gathered by DiCE there are almost 1.4 million new cases of colorectal cancer each year worldwide, accounting for 9.7% of total global cancer cases. The prevalence of the disease is on the rise, driven by population growth, an ageing population and poor diet and lifestyle.
So, what is Colorectal Cancer? According to information provided by Cancer Research UK, colorectal cancer (commonly referred to as bowel cancer), means cancer that starts in the large bowel (the colon), and the back passage (the rectum). Common symptoms of the disease can include but are not limited to: –
• Bleeding from the rectum or blood in your poo;
• A change in your normal bowel habits such as looser poo;
• Weight loss;
• Pain in your abdomen or back passage;
A full list of symptoms with accompanying at advice can be located here.
If the cancer is identified and treatment begun at an early stage, there is a very good prospect of recovery; those diagnosed with a Stage 1 cancer have a 90% chance of surviving for 5 years or more. Conversely, those diagnosed where the cancer has progressed to Stage 4 tragically only have a 10% survival rate for that period of time, according to DiCE.
At Wolferstans, we are only too aware of the devastating impact that can be felt by patients and their families when a cancer diagnosis is delayed. It is incredibly important that everyone is aware of the potential signs and symptoms of the disease to ensure that help can be sought, a diagnosis reached, and any treatment started as soon as possible.
In the UK screening for bowel cancers is offered every two years to men and women aged 60 to 74. Screening is still possible for older patients, and according to the government a screening kit can be obtained by calling the free helpline on 0800 707 60 60. From April 2021 the NHS is starting to reduce the minimum screening age to 50.
This is a step in the right direction however, a major barrier remains; stigma. It is undoubtedly the case that the sensitive nature of the symptoms of colorectal cancer play a part in deterring patients from seeking help or receiving the appropriate screening. According to DiCE the UK has a screening participation rate of 35% for those in the target population – a much lower number than that which is identified as best practice – https://digestivecancers.eu/colon-cancer-map/.
Indeed, research published in the Lancet states that cancer stigma still exists in the UK today and is negatively associated with cancer screening behaviours. In popular culture, famous celebrities such as Chadwick Boseman who sadly recently passed away as a result of the disease are noted to have kept their disease secret due to the potential reaction he may have received.
So, what can be done to help save lives and reduce stigma? Participation in events such as DiCE’s awareness month are key and will assist and normalising talking about the disease. DiCE are working towards the adoption of best clinical practices across Europe and it is only by speaking up and bringing attention to the disease that patients will begin to feel comfortable in speaking about their experiences.
Anyone can get involved with DiCE, be that by fundraising for one of their member organisations such as Bowel Cancer UK, or by doing something as simple as speaking up on social media.
DiCE has provided a helpful social media kit which can be accessed by anyone that wants to help raise awareness, and this can be accessed here.
If you would like to fundraise directly for Bowel Cancer UK, you can sign up to be a campaign supporter here.
The effects of colorectal cancer can be devastating on both the individual receiving the diagnosis and their families. With half of younger people not even being aware that they could receive their diagnosis prior to having received it, it has never been more important than now to speak up, break the stigma and normalise talking about the disease.