A Timperley pensioner returned from a trip to Australia and felt tired.
Valerie Thompson had lost a bit of weight during her holiday, but thought nothing of it and put her exhaustion down to jet lag. Before her trip she had completed an at-home cancer screening test sent through the post and had almost forgotten about it by the time she arrived home.
But when her results came back, the worst was confirmed – she had bowel cancer. Valerie said: “I wouldn’t be here if I had ignored the home test kit for bowel cancer.
“I had no symptoms and was going to throw the test away when it came through the post. I decided to do it and then headed on holiday to Australia.
“Feeling a bit tired on my return – which I assumed was jet lag – and having lost a bit of weight which I thought was due to endless walking and a different holiday diet, I was diagnosed with bowel cancer.”
Over the last two years, Trafford GPs have witnessed an 85pc increase in lower gastrointestinal cancers across the borough and are now urging patients to complete ‘life saving’ bowel cancer screening tests at home.
As part of the NHS bowel cancer screening programme, patients aged 50 to 74 are automatically sent a simple home testing kit every two years from NHS England.
The test checks small faeces samples for any amount of blood which could be caused by cancer. Valerie was one of the lucky ones in that her condition was found early. Her husband was sadly not so fortunate.
She said: “I underwent a colonoscopy and chemo and I have been lucky: if I had ignored the test, the bowel cancer may not have been picked up early and I may not be here today.
“Sadly my husband was also diagnosed with bowel cancer at a later stage and he lost his life to the condition. It’s so important to act fast. The tests can be life saving.”
Valerie said that while people are often ’embarrassed to talk about bodily functions’, anyone with any concerns about a change in their bowel habits should speak to their GP.
The at-home testing kit is also available to those aged 75 and over, and can be accessed by calling the free bowel cancer screening helpline on 0800 707 60 60. Altrincham Healthcare Alliance Primary Care Network alone has seen a 46pc increase in lower gastrointestinal cancers, which includes bowel cancer, across its practices since 2020.
Dr Amal Hashim, GP at Park Medical Practice in Timperley, said: “Bowel cancer is the UK’s second biggest cancer killer. Early diagnosis is vital: if bowel cancer is found early there’s a much higher chance of successful treatment than when cancer has become more widespread.”
Dr Hashim highlighted bowel cancer symptoms:
- Bleeding from the bottom and/or blood in feaces
- A persistent and unexplained change in bowel habits
- Unexplained weight loss
- Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason
- A pain or lump in the tummy
She added: “We’re urging everyone who receives an NHS England home test for bowel cancer to complete the quick and simple test. More than 16,500 people die from bowel cancer in the UK every year with one in 15 men and one in 18 women diagnosed with the condition during their lifetime. The message is simple: completing a test could save your life, but please contact your GP if you’ve any symptoms.
“If patients have any symptoms, they should not be embarrassed or ignore them. Doctors are used to seeing lots of people with bowel problems. While many people with these symptoms don’t have bowel cancer – other health problems can cause similar symptoms – it is always worth being sure, so please contact your GP if you have any concerns.”
Over 75s can also access the at-home test kits and patients can call the screening helpline on 0800 707 60 60 or for more information about bowel cancer screening in England please visit NHS website here.