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‘My persistence saved my life’ – bowel cancer patient urges people with symptoms to seek help

1 in 3 people experiencing bowel cancer symptoms put off GP or hospital visits due to perceived long wait times

Almost 1 in 3 people experiencing symptoms of bowel cancer have put off seeking help because of perceived long waits in the public system. That’s according to new research published today by the Irish Cancer Society, marking the beginning of Bowel Cancer Awareness Month.

The survey, carried out by Core Research, also finds that 1 in 3 haven’t made a medical appointment because they don’t think their symptoms are serious enough. While 1 in 4 are putting off a hospital or GP visit because it’s too expensive.

Around 2,500 people will be diagnosed with bowel cancer each year and it is the second most common cause of cancer-related death in Ireland. The earlier bowel cancer is detected the better the outcome for the patient.

Signs and symptoms of bowel cancer include: lasting change in your bowel habit, blood in your poo or bleeding from your back passage, a lump in your tummy area or rectum, or pain or discomfort in your tummy area or back passage.

Some risk factors include family history, dietary habits, smoking, alcohol, obesity and inactivity.

45-year-old bowel cancer patient, Jennifer Deegan urges anyone with signs or symptoms to seek help immediately.

“Before I was diagnosed, I was one of many my age and younger, who were not aware of the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer – many of which only show at a later stage. I want people to hear my story and think ‘this could be me’ and to get themselves checked out at once if they notice anything out of the ordinary – my persistence is what has saved my life.”

Dr Grainne O’Kane, Consultant Medical Oncologist, Trinity St. James’s Cancer Research Institute, says: “It’s really concerning that there are people sitting at home with persistent symptoms of bowel cancer and are putting off going to their GP. My message is very clear, although most of the time these symptoms can be caused by other conditions, it’s so important to get checked out. As an oncologist we are also particularly worried about the  significant increase in bowel cancer in people under 50 around the world,  so no matter what your age, the sooner you are seen by a doctor, if you have symptoms, the better treatment options and outcomes.

She added: “The Irish Cancer Society’s survey also shows that 1 in 4 people don’t know the correct age bracket for BowelScreen. Bowel screening is available for anyone aged 59-69 and it’s really important that those eligible are taking up the opportunity to be screened. It is clear that we need to lower the age for screening as soon as possible In line with international guidelines. Those over 60 years of age account for 3 in 4 diagnosis of bowel cancer and so I’m also urging younger family members, to push your parents, your aunt, your uncle or grandparent to make sure they are signed up for screening. What has been disappointing is to learn that some of those offered screening are not availing of the service. It’s important that we all stick to guidelines where possible, so that cancers can be found at an earlier stage.”

The Irish Cancer Society is urging anyone with symptoms to visit their GP. Anyone with questions or concerns about bowel cancer can contact the Irish Cancer Society’s Support Line on Freephone 1800 200 700 or visit for more information.

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