Nearly 43,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer annually. After lung cancer, the disease is the most common cause of cancer deaths in the UK, taking around 16,500 lives every year.
A survey of 2,083 adults has found that 45 per cent of people cannot name any symptoms of the disease, while just 35 per cent could identify the main “red flag” symptom, which is blood in faeces.
Men were significantly less likely to be able to identify a symptom, with 55 per cent failing to name any compared to 36 per cent of women.
Other signs of bowel cancer include a change in bowel habits, pain in the abdomen, weight loss and unexplained fatigue. The charity said an “alarmingly low” number of people are aware of these.
One in eight people (12 per cent) knew a change in bowel habits is linked to the disease, while 92 per cent did not know unexplained weight loss could be a symptom.
Dr Lisa Wilde, director of research and external affairs at Bowel Cancer UK commented: “While the disease largely affects people over the age of 50, more than 2,600 under 50s are diagnosed each year, so it’s really important people seek advice as soon as possible – whatever their age – if they’re worried.”
The government has opened a call for evidence to inform an upcoming 10-year cancer plan which will look at how technologies are used in treatment and how to improve patient experiences. It was due to close on Friday but has been extended for another week.
“It is clear from these findings that this plan must include action to increase awareness of symptoms of bowel cancer, and encourage people to seek help as early as possible,” Wilde said.
If caught early on, bowel cancer can be cured, with nearly everyone diagnosed at an early stage surviving, Bowel Cancer UK said.
This Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, which began on Friday 1 April, the charity is urging everyone with any of the major symptoms to get a health check.
Awareness of the disease is starting to improve, with BBC Radio 1 presenter Adele Roberts sharing updates of her journey with bowel cancer on social media following her shock diagnosis in October 2021.
Roberts said she first noticed a change when going to the toilet. “I noticed mucus at first and then I started to notice a bit of blood and it started to get a bit more regular,” she said.
Dr Philippa Kaye, a GP, author and bowel cancer patient, said it can be daunting to visit your doctor with symptoms, but people should not feel embarrassed.
“Please don’t feel embarrassed, don’t ignore any symptoms and don’t put it off,” she said.
“As GPs we are used to seeing lots of people with bowel problems and if you are worried that something is wrong we want to see you. Early diagnosis could save your life.”