The Public Health Agency (PHA) has produced a video to explain how bowel cancer screening works to encourage more people to avail of the simple home test which can help detect the illness.
Dr Declan Bradley, Speciality Registrar at the PHA, said: “Cancer, particularly bowel cancer, is not something that many of us want to think about, but this reluctance could prove fatal if it means we fail to take the simple home screening test that has been developed when it arrives through our letterbox.
“Being asked to use the home screening kit for bowel cancer can be daunting and embarrassing, as no one likes to talk about their bowel motions, and collecting a sample isn’t the most pleasant thing to think about. Some people don’t even want to consider the possibility of having cancer, or think that they don’t need screening as they don’t have any symptoms, so we have developed an online video showing how to use the test kit and what happens when you take part in the Bowel Cancer Screening Programme.
“April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month so we are taking this opportunity to encourage more people to use the home bowel screening kits by launching this video. Bowel cancer is the second most common cancer in Northern Ireland and more than 400 people die from the disease each year. The good news is that doing the screening test helps to find cancer at a very early stage before there are any symptoms, which is why it is so important that people complete and return the kit, instead of ignoring it because they are embarrassed or unsure how to do it.
“In Northern Ireland, the Bowel Cancer Screening Programme offers screening every two years to all men and women aged 60 to 74. People in this age group will automatically be sent an invitation and a screening kit so they can do the test at home.
“We know that the first time someone receives the kit in the post it can be a bit worrying, so we hope that this video will show that the test is very easy to do. The kit is used to detect traces of blood in the bowel motion. Most people who are tested will have no blood in their bowel motions and will be invited to repeat the screening test again in two years’ time. If any blood is detected, this indicates that further tests need to be carried out. The video also answers questions about what happens next for those who have some blood detected.
“If someone receives the kit and isn’t sure whether they should use it, I would encourage them to talk to their friends and family. If you do have bowel cancer, you don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to survive it because you were too embarrassed or didn’t find the time to complete the screening test. Over half of the people in Northern Ireland who are sent the kit do take part, but we need more to take up the opportunity.
“I strongly encourage everyone who is eligible to watch the video and to talk to others about the screening programme.”
Although you should take the test even if you have no symptoms which point towards cancer, the PHA is also urging everyone to be aware more generally of the early signs and symptoms of bowel cancer as it is important to seek medical advice if you experience any of them. These can occur at any age and can include:
bleeding from your bottom, or blood in your bowel motion;
a change in bowel habit lasting three weeks or more, especially if it becomes looser;
unexplained weight loss;
pain or swelling in your abdomen;
extreme tiredness for no obvious reason.
Dr Bradley continued: “Not everyone with these symptoms will have cancer, but if you are concerned that you have one or more of them, you should seek advice from your doctor at an early stage.
“If you have any signs or symptoms, or you receive the test kit in the post, take action – it could save your life.”
Men and women aged between 60 and 74 will receive a test kit in the post at the home address provided by their GP. It is therefore important that your GP has your most up-to-date address and correct date of birth or you may miss the chance to take part in the programme.