Undertone hits warning note on bowel cancer

Undertones bass player and BBC Radio Foyle producer Michael Bradley is using his own story to help raise aware of the dangers of bowel cancer.

His experience is being used by the Ulster Cancer Foundation and Bowel Cancer UK to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of the disease this month, bowel cancer month.

Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in the North. There are around 1,100 cases of bowel cancer diagnosed here each year – similar to the incidence of breast cancer - with around 440 deaths.

Having his bowel cancer diagnosed early was a life-saver for Michael, who’s now 51.

He said: “I was diagnosed with bowel cancer just over five years ago. I had lost weight and I remember being out with a group of friends and feeling a bit uncomfortable, almost like cramps in my stomach. I could see drops of blood.

“I went to the doctor the next day but it was a locum, a young woman, so I decided not to have an examination. The symptoms disappeared for a couple of months and then the same thing happened again. The next time I saw my own doctor who checked me and sent me for a colonoscopy. I started thinking all sorts of things.

“The consultant said ‘you need to talk to your family’ and my heart sank. The worst time was waiting two weeks to find out if the cancer had spread. It hadn’t which was the best news he could have given me.

“I would definitely encourage people to go to the doctor when you get the first sign of symptoms. Although I am feeling great now I feel I was very lucky - don’t be put off from being tested like I was.”

Gerry McElwee, Head of Cancer Prevention with the Ulster Cancer Foundation, said, “In the case of bowel cancer, early detection is crucial. We know that if bowel cancer is detected at an early stage there is a much greater chance that treatment can be effective.

“This year to raise awareness of the disease we have linked up with Bowel Cancer UK to produce a public information leaflet which will be distributed to every GP surgery and pharmacy in Northern Ireland during April. These clearly outline bowel cancer symptoms which include a change in bowel habits lasting 4 weeks or more; bleeding from the bottom or blood in your stools; unexplained tiredness and weight loss; a pain or lump in your abdomen.

“It is vital that people are aware of the early warning signs and symptoms of bowel cancer as this information really could save lives!”

Bowel cancer can occur at any age but it is primarily a cancer of the over 50s for both men and women. Risk of the disease increases if there is a family history, but over 75% of patients have had no previous bowel condition or family link.

Deborah Alsina, Chief Executive, Bowel Cancer UK added, “The risk of bowel cancer can be reduced by adopting a healthy lifestyle and eating a diet rich in fruit, vegetables and cereals; reducing your intake of red and processed meat, stopping smoking, reducing alcohol consumption and taking regular exercise.

“We would also encourage those in the 60-69 age group to take part in the bowel cancer screening programme when called. This programme is currently being rolled out in the Northern, Western and South Eastern Trusts and evidence from the programme in England shows that it is effective in identifying bowel cancer.”

If you have any concerns about bowel cancer please call UCF’s freephone cancer information and support helpline on 0800 783 3339. This free service is available Monday to Friday, 9am - 5pm.