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Spot bowel cancer early - video transcript

Voiceover: Our bowels are one of the largest organs in our bodies, helping to digest and absorb vital nutrients from our food. For many people, it’s a bit embarrassing to talk about our bowel habits, even when there’s a problem. And many of us are uncertain about the early signs and symptoms of bowel cancer. So, what do we know about bowel cancer?

Woman: Could it start if you had diarrhoea or constipation?

Man: Sorry I don’t know.

Man: Blood from your back passage?

Man: You cannot keep food in.

Woman: I would imagine a bloating feeling.

Man: I have no idea.

Dr Sarah Jarvis: In the UK, over 36,000 men and women are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year. Bowel cancer refers to cancer of the large intestine, which includes the rectum and the colon. It’s the third most common cancer in the UK, after lung and breast. The good news is that if it’s caught early, more than eight out of 10 people can be treated successfully.

Voiceover: In this film, we’ll tell you about the early signs and symptoms of bowel cancer and you’ll meet people who’ve had bowel cancer and whose treatment has been a success. There are many common myths about bowel cancer.

Woman: Myth - age doesn’t matter when it comes to bowel cancer.

Voiceover: Fact - More than 8 out of 10 bowel cancers are diagnosed in people over 60.

Man: Myth - I haven’t any pain, so I haven’t got bowel cancer.

Voiceover: Fact - Not everybody that has bowel cancer experiences pain.

Dr Sarah Jarvis: Most of us have problems with our bowels at some point in our lives, and most of them are not caused by cancer. But there are certain symptoms that you really do need to look out for. If you have any of these symptoms for more than 4-6 weeks, you should make an appointment straight away to talk to your GP. The sort of things you should be looking out for include a change in your bowel habit, going to the loo more often or having looser stools - having diarrhoea in other words. Bloating, swelling, pain or an unexplained lump that hasn’t been there before in your tummy. Bleeding from your bottom or your back passage without any other symptoms at all. Tiredness, that you haven’t got another explanation for, or possibly feeling pale because it may be that you’re anaemic and that’s causing both of those things. Most of these won’t be due to bowel cancer but the point is that they could be, and if they can be picked up earlier you’ve got a much, much better chance of having successful treatment.

Man: Myth - I don’t have any symptoms, so taking part in the screening test is a waste of time.

Voiceover: Fact: The NHS screening programme has been set up to help detect bowel cancer before signs and symptoms show up.

Julietta Patnick: The NHS bowel cancer screening programme is a new service that we’ve started to offer throughout England over the last couple of years, and we are gradually rolling it out. It’s for men and women in their sixties and we’re going to be going up to the 75th birthday very shortly. We send you a kit called the Faecal Occult blood test, which is a posh name for a kit that finds blood that you can’t see in poo samples. We ask people to sample their faeces, it’s a little smear on a card that we send them, and then send it back to us and we develop it in a laboratory and if there’s a little bit of blood that can’t be seen, the chemicals will bring it out.

Voiceover: Dave Phillips is a retired swimming coach and a keen cyclist. Eight years ago, he knew nothing about bowel cancer.

Dave Phillips: A screening test for bowel cancer came through our front door, and my wife and I decided to do the screening test. It was quite amusing really, because it was something we hadn’t done before and it was novel. So we did what the leaflet told us to do and put faeces on the little pieces of paper and posted it off, so they could examine our motions for cancer. It came back with my results being positive which I thought was pretty good really. But I didn’t realise that positive meant there was something wrong!

Voiceover: Dave’s screening test had revealed an abnormality and he was referred to a specialist who confirmed he had bowel cancer.

Dave Phillips: I went to see the consultant and at that point he explained to me quite clearly and showed me quite graphically that I had indeed got bowel cancer although I wouldn’t have known that from anything I had experienced in the years running up to this. There’s no way that I would have known that at all.

Voiceover: Dave’s treatment included surgery and radiotherapy and it wasn’t long before he was able to get back to enjoying a physically active life.

Dave Phillips: The pleasure that I got from riding a bike after the operation was brilliant. My message is, to people that have the screening test come through their door, make sure that you do it. Send it back, because I’m still here to be able to do the things I enjoy doing. If I hadn’t done the screening I don’t know where I would have been, so just do it.

Julietta Patnick: Your risk of bowel cancer actually continues to rise with age so we’re more than happy for over 70 to ring us up and get a free kit sent to them. We’ve got a freephone number, 0800 707 60 60, so if people ring that number we’d be very happy to send them a kit, whatever age they are after 70 and we’ll carry out the test for them.

Woman: Myth - Bowel cancer is a death sentence

Voiceover: Fact - If it’s found early more than 8 out of 10 cases of bowel cancer can be treated successfully.

Sarah Jarvis: There’s lots that you can do to reduce your risk of getting bowel cancer in the first place. Diet is absolutely key - you really are what you eat. So get into the habit of having a healthy diet: lots of fruit, fibre, vegetables, less red meat, less processed meat, and certainly more oily fish.

Try and keep a healthy weight, and of course, exercising regularly will help you to do that as well as reducing your risk of bowel cancer. Smoking really does increase your risk of bowel cancer, as well as your risk of lung cancer, so just another reason to stop. And the less alcohol you drink, the less likely you are to develop bowel cancer.

Woman: Myth - If I find a symptom, I have to see the first available doctor.

Voiceover: Fact - When you call to make an appointment you can request either a male or female doctor. If one is available, they will be keen to see you.

Voiceover: Nirmala De Silva is an active member of her local yoga club, and though of herself as fit and healthy.

Nirmala De Silva: I had rectal bleeding just out of the blue. There was no indication that anything else was wrong. I had come back from work and then I just noticed it. All night I had some bleeding and the next morning though it stopped, I thought I must go to the doctor. She said it could be haemorrhoids, it could be anything else, but we’ll send you for further investigation.

Voiceover: Nirmala was referred to a hospital where a sample of tissue - a biopsy - was taken from her bowel. It confirmed she had bowel cancer.

Nirmala De Silva: The first thing I felt when I heard I was diagnosed with cancer was that I had this great explosion in my head and all I could see was death. But as I gathered myself, I thought I had to be brave for my family and my friends and my children.

Voiceover: Nirmala was told she would need surgery and radiotherapy, but she was particularly concerned about the side effects of the surgery.

Nirmala De Silva: One of my biggest worries and concerns was the fact that I was going to have a colostomy bag, and more than the actual surgery I worried about this, thinking that it was going to be a permanent thing. But I was assured that once the wounds had healed it would be reversed, and six weeks later, they did a further test and it was possible to reverse it and I was really glad.

Voiceover: Eleven years later, Nirmala has completely recovered from her bowel cancer and is leading a completely normal life.

Nirmala De Silva: My message to people is to go to the doctors’ on time, if you have any cause for concern, anything to do with your bowel or bottom, not to be embarrassed about it but to have it checked out.

Man: Myth - If I have surgery for bowel cancer, I will need a colostomy bag.

Voiceover: Fact: It is rare that a colostomy bag is required but if it is, it is usually temporary.

Voiceover: Dave and Nirmala’s stories show that bowel cancer is treatable, but it’s vital to spot the disease early so the treatment has a better chance of success.

Sarah Jarvis: Do be aware of what’s normal for you, eat healthily, take normal common sense steps to improve your health, and be aware, if you get a change in your normal bowel habit you should go to see your GP. Don’t sit on your symptoms.

Voiceover: If you have any of these symptoms for four to six weeks, book an appointment to see your doctor and if your symptoms persist, keep going back. [List of symptoms appears]

Stephanie Moore: My name is Stephanie Moore and my husband was Bobby Moore, the only Englishman to hold up the World Cup in 1966. Bobby died aged just 51 of bowel cancer. The tragedy is that bowel cancer is a very, very curable disease if diagnosed and treated early. So much progress has been made since Bobby died 16 years ago in the way bowel cancer is diagnosed and treated. It is over 80% curable if diagnosed early. And I would urge people, if offered bowel cancer screening, to take advantage of it. And I would urge others, who don’t fall into that age group, to be aware of the high-risk bowel cancer symptoms. Had we been, Bobby would have been alive now.

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Question about cancer? Contact our information nurse team
Updated: 25 September 2009