'Three-fold variation' in UK bowel cancer death rates

Cancer cells in the intestine Bowel cancer is the second biggest cause of cancer deaths in the UK after lung cancer

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There is a big variation across the UK in the number of people who die from bowel cancer, figures show.

The death rate is lowest in the town of Rossendale, Lancashire, at nine in 100,000 people, while the highest is found in Glasgow, at 31 in 100,000.

Beating Bowel Cancer researchers say taking part in screening, awareness of symptoms and unhealthy diets probably all play a role in the variation.

The disease is the UK's second most common cause of cancer death.

The charity Beating Bowel Cancer said that its research took into account the number of elderly people living in a particular area as the risk of bowel cancer increases with age.

The average death rate from bowel cancer across the UK is 17.6 per 100,000.

Mark Flannagan, chief executive of Beating Bowel Cancer, said that no matter where people lived, too many people were dying from bowel cancer.

Case study: Mark Davies

Mark Davies, cancer survivor

Diagnosed at the age of 31, he has now been cancer-free for seven years.

His advice to those who are worried about bowel cancer is to get help fast.

"One of the problems is people aren't aware of the symptoms - changes in toilet habits and so on.

"It's just being aware, especially for men as we hate going to the doctors but it is really worth doing."

"Deaths from bowel cancer could, and should, be much less common," he said.

"Early diagnosis is key. People can give themselves a life-saving chance by being aware of bowel cancer symptoms and taking part in bowel cancer screening when it is offered to them.

"The figures are intriguing. It will be extremely important for local NHS organisations to examine information for their own areas and use it to inform potential changes in delivery of services."

Symptoms of bowel cancer can include bleeding from the rectum or blood in stools, and a lasting change in normal bowel habits towards diarrhoea or looser stools.

Dr Emilia Crighton, who is in charge of the bowel cancer screening programme in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, said: "Only half of the 400,000 people offered the screening in the first two years of the programme took up the test in Glasgow. I would like to see many more people doing so.

"Bowel cancer often has no early warning signs so it's important that even if people feel well, they should do the test as the chances of beating bowel cancer are very high when it is found early."

Cancer Research UK has calculated that if bowel cancer is caught early enough it can be cured in more than 90% of cases, but the disease still claims more than 16,000 lives across the UK each year.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "Bowel cancer is one of the biggest cancer killers in England and we know one of the main reasons is because too many people are diagnosed late.

"That is why we trialled a campaign earlier this year to raise awareness of the key signs and symptoms and to encourage people with them to visit their GP. We hope to launch a wider campaign shortly.

"We are also investing £60 million over the next four years to fund flexible sigmoidoscopy - a new screening technique for people around 55 - which will help save 3,000 lives every year."

Symptoms of bowel cancer

  • Bleeding from the back passage (rectum) or blood in your stools
  • A lasting change in normal bowel habits towards diarrhoea or looser stools
  • A lump in the right side of your abdomen, or in your rectum
  • A straining feeling in the rectum
  • Losing weight
  • Pain in your abdomen or rectum
  • Anaemia (a low level of red blood cells), caused by the tumour bleeding. This can lead to tiredness and sometimes breathlessness.
  • Cancer of the bowel may cause a blockage (a bowel obstruction). The symptoms of this are griping pains in the abdomen, feeling bloated, constipation, and being sick.

Source: Cancer Research UK

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