Clinical FeaturesOncology

Bowel Cancer Awareness at the Irish Cancer Society

April is Bowel Cancer Awareness month and as part of our national awareness campaign, the Irish Cancer Society (the Society) is urging people to be aware of the signs and symptoms of the disease. According to the National Cancer Registry Ireland, nearly 2,600 people in Ireland are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year. Bowel cancer is one of the most common cancers in Ireland; it is the second most common cancer amongst men, and the third most common amongst women. As with all cancers, the earlier you are diagnosed, the more treatment options available to you and the better your chance of cure. Most recent official data shows that 483 fewer cases of bowel cancers were registered in the first year of the pandemic, compared to what was expected. Clinicians are now seeing more advanced diagnoses, patients that possibly delayed going to their GP during the pandemic.

Early detection is Vital

Due to the embarrassing nature of the signs and symptoms of the disease, delayed diagnosis has unfortunately been a long-standing issue. We are urging the public to go to their GP, if they notice any changes in their bowel habit. Changes including;

• A lasting change in your bowel habit – going more often, looser motions or constipation.

• Blood in your poo or bleeding from your back passage.

• Pain or discomfort in your tummy area or back passage.

• Trapped wind or fullness in your tummy.

• A lump in your tummy area or rectum.

• Feeling you have not emptied your bowel fully after going to the toilet.

• Unexplained weight loss.

• Feeling tired and breathless due to anaemia (fewer red blood cells).

We have developed a bowel online checker tool that can be accessed on Bowel This tool is designed to help the public assess their bowel health. It can generate a report which can then be brought to their GP and be used as a prompt for a conversation about bowel health.

Bowel cancer is primarily a disease of older people, but the landscape is changing as more and more younger people present with symptoms. It is vital that everyone is bowel aware and acts on signs and symptoms. Separate to symptom awareness, another key part of early detection is engaging in screening. During April, BowelScreen, Ireland’s national bowel cancer screening programme, is reminding people to complete the simple at-home test that could save their life. BowelScreen offers a free athome test to people aged from 60-69. The test involves taking a small sample of your stool (poo) using a Faecal Immunochemical Test or FIT kit that is sent to your home, and returned to BowelScreen in the post. It’s done in the privacy of your own bathroom. More information is available at: conditions/bowel-screening/

There are risk factors that increase your chance of developing bowel cancer, age, family history of bowel cancer and inherited bowel conditions, obesity, poor diet and excess alcohol. The Irish Cancer Society Freephone Support Line is available on 1800 200 700 for anyone with a cancer-related query or concern.

The research landscape

Through the support of the public and our donors, the Irish Cancer Society is the largest voluntary funder of cancer research in Ireland and we are committed to improving the lives of those impacted by cancer in Ireland through research. In the arena of bowel cancer, we currently fund two exciting studies. Rebecca O’Brien, Irish Cancer Society PhD Researcher of the Year 2023, is a final year PhD Scholar based in Trinity College Dublin. Rebecca’s PhD project investigates the role of immune proteins, called complement proteins, in bowel cancer. Unfortunately, many bowel cancers do not respond to current treatments, and the exact reasons behind this resistance are poorly understood. Rebecca is particularly interested in how these immune proteins and immune cells may affect treatment response in bowel cancer. In addition, Rebecca’s research also looks at whether the amount of these proteins in the blood of bowel cancer patient may help to predict resistance to treatment.

Dr Grainne O’Kane, is a medical oncologist with a wealth of experience in gastrointestinal cancer research, based in Trinity St. James’s Cancer Institute. One of the areas of focus of Grainne’s research is bowel cancer. Grainne aims to improve treatment options for bowel cancer patients in Ireland, including providing world class treatment options. Grainne’s research aims to increase the availability of novel clinical trials to patients with bowel cancer in Ireland, to ensure each patient has access to world-class treatment options.

Written by Aoife McNamara, Education and Engagement Manager, Irish Cancer Society

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