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April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, and GPs in Greenwich are reminding people that spotting bowel cancer early could save your life.

Bowel cancer is one of the UK's biggest cancer killers, but it is treatable and curable, especially if caught at the earliest stage. The risk increases with age, with almost 90 per cent of cases occurring in people aged 60 or over.

Screening remains one of the most effective ways of spotting bowel cancer early

For those aged between 60 and 74, a testing kit is sent to your home every two years to make it quick, simple and comfortable to collect a small stool sample and return it in a sealed envelope for testing.

Anyone over the age of 75 can request a kit by calling the free bowel cancer screening helpline on 0800 707 60 60.

However, bowel cancer can affect people of any age, therefore raising awareness of the symptoms is crucial for early diagnosis.

Dr Ellen Wright, a local GP and chair of NHS Greenwich Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said:

"Bowel cancer can be treated effectively if caught early enough and people can minimise the risk by following simple advice including a healthy diet and regular exercise.

"The sooner it's diagnosed, the greater the likelihood of survival. It's essential that people are able to spot the signs and symptoms and, if things don't feel right, book an appointment with their GP.

"Bowel cancer can affect anyone, any age; but we know that the risk increases as people get older. That's why we encourage those aged 60 or over to take part in the NHS screening programme – it's free and could save your life."

Symptoms can include:

  • persistent blood in the stools – that occurs for no obvious reason or is associated with a change in bowel habit
  • a persistent change in your bowel habit – which usually means going more often, with looser stools
  • persistent lower abdominal (tummy) pain, bloating or discomfort – that's always caused by eating and may be associated with loss of appetite or significant unintentional weight loss

If you're unsure whether to see your GP, try the bowel cancer symptom checker.

Read more about NHS screening for bowel cancer.

Advice on how to minimise the risk of bowel cancer can be found here. The South East London Cancer Help Centre also provides an excellent source of advice and support outside the NHS with many of its staff having survived cancer.