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April marks Bowel Cancer Awareness Month for the Marie Keating Foundation

The Marie Keating Foundation makes urgent call to Government to reduce the age of bowel cancer screening from 59 to 50 as charity highlights that 1 in 5 diagnoses is to someone under 60

The charity’s #NoRegrets campaign urges those under the screening age of 59 not to dismiss symptoms and to get checked by a GP if they notice changes

The Marie Keating Foundation is making an urgent call to Government to reduce the age of bowel cancer screening from 59 to 50, as startling figures show that one in five people diagnosed with the disease in Ireland is to someone under 60 [4].

The national early detection cancer charity is marking Bowel Cancer Awareness Month this April by broadening the scope of its #NoRegrets campaign to appeal to the Government to take immediate action and reduce the screening age, as well as continuing to raise public awareness about the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer.

In Ireland, over 2,500 people each year develop bowel (colorectal) cancer.  Of these people, 60% are diagnosed at late stage. Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in Ireland, giving rise to more than 1,000 deaths per year.

With all cancers, survival is strongly influenced by stage at diagnosis. Bowel cancer has a 5-year survival rate of 97% in those diagnosed at Stage I and this reduces dramatically to just 14% in those diagnosed at Stage 4 [1].

National Cancer Registry Ireland figures show that the incidence of bowel cancer amongst those under 50 has almost doubled in just 25 years [2,3]. One in five diagnoses of bowel cancer in Ireland is to someone under 60 [4], while 1 in 10 diagnoses is to someone under 50 [5].

Speaking about the campaign, which is kindly supported by Bristol-Myers Squibb and Takeda, Director of Nursing Services with the Marie Keating Foundation, Helen Forristal said: “This is also something the Foundation has seen mirrored within our Positive Living group which supports those living with Stage 4 or metastatic cancers.

“Recently we have seen a significant increase in the number of younger participants with advanced bowel cancer joining Positive Living. Since COVID, the Foundation has supported eight people with metastatic bowel cancer, all under the age of 50, sadly two of whom have died in the past year.”

Despite these concerning trends, the current age for Bowel Screen is 59, leaving a critical gap in early detection efforts.

Most countries globally begin screening for bowel cancer at the age of 50 as recommended by the European Code Against Cancer [6].  The European Commission has also made proposals to update the Council Recommendation on cancer screening. Among the recommendations is to include the expansion of bowel cancer screening for all adults between 50 and 74 [7].

Notably, both the US and Australia have lowered the screening age to 45 years given the increase in early onset bowel cancer.

Marie Keating Foundation CEO Liz Yeates said: “Today, we are confronted with an alarming reality: because so many patients are being diagnosed with late stage bowel cancer, doctors are limited in term of treatment options and too many patients are dying far too early. It’s a tragedy we cannot ignore and we need to put a more urgent focus on early detection and diagnosis. Shockingly, one in ten patients are diagnosed under the age of 50, while one in five is under the age of 60 and yet our BowelScreen programme only starts at age 59.

“We cannot afford to let more lives slip through the cracks while we stand idly by. It’s time to challenge the status quo, to push boundaries, and to prioritise proactive measures that save lives.

“The well-being of our citizens must be a top priority for the Government. We cannot afford to ignore the evidence of rising incidence of bowel cancer among younger adults. Expanding the screening age to 50-74 and ensuring increased funding for diagnostics such as endoscopies and colonoscopies and treatment pathways are essential to saving lives and preventing avoidable deaths.”


Denise Murphy, whose husband Mick sadly passed away in November 2023 from Bowel Cancer, aged just 48, said: “Mick was a patient ambassador for the Foundation’s ‘No Regrets’ campaign in 2023 and he wanted me to continue to speak on his behalf so we can ensure no other family goes through this pain.

“He was brilliant, he was very funny. He was an amazing father. He was a brilliant husband, we were together for 25 years so he was a best friend before anything else.

“It was a huge shock for him to go to the GP and our GP knew that if he was attending the surgery with an issue that it must have been serious. Unfortunately, in July 2021, we were told that it was inoperable. That’s his big regret that he waited too long to go to his GP.

“On paper, Mick should not have gotten a Stage 4 Bowel Cancer diagnosis. Everything changes overnight. It could have been different. Don’t wait. If you won’t go to the GP for yourself, go for your partners, go for your kids, go for your mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and friends who will miss you so much when you’re gone.”

Dr Fiona Macken, a Dublin-based GP, is supporting the Foundation’s call to expand the screening age, and also urged that the National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP)’s GP Referral Pathway for Suspected Colorectal (Bowel) Cancer be updated to reflect current trends.

“As GPs, we are working in a system with guidelines. These guidelines are based on the research that was available at that time.  It’s now becoming more obvious that these tumours are appearing in the younger cohort and so guidelines need to be reviewed.

“GPs themselves need to be aware that bowel cancer is no longer a disease of the over 50s. It is seen in patients even younger.

“For GPs, my advice is to ask yourself, “could this be bowel cancer?’

“From the patient perspective, GPs are humans working as detectives. They are putting a case together based on symptoms, signs and the latest guidelines and research in their possession. Don’t be afraid to tell your doctor if you think they have missed the biggest clue.  If you feel that there’s something wrong, stress that you would really prefer to be referred to a specialist.  There is nothing unreasonable about asking this question to your GP, “could this be bowel cancer?”.

Ms Forristal continued:  “This campaign holds immense significance as it aims to raise awareness about the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer and emphasises to everyone, regardless of age, the importance of paying attention to any bodily changes and get checked without delay. It is also important to know your family history and risk factors that might contribute to a bowel cancer diagnosis.

“For those aged 59 and above, please avail of the free FIT test sent out to you by BowelScreen. By addressing common barriers such as age-related misconceptions and embarrassment, we aspire to facilitate early diagnosis, recognising the pivotal role it plays for a positive outcome. We know that early detection matters when it comes to a cancer diagnosis and we are highlighting that whatever regrets you might have in life, don’t regret not taking action earlier and ignoring any changes in your body.”

The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, supported by the Marie Keating Foundation and Bowel Cancer Ireland, formerly the Irish Colorectal Cancer Community, is hosting an informative and engaging event called Patients, Bowels, Basics and Breakthroughs focused on patients, bowel cancer awareness and research at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland from 2.30pm to 5.30pm on April 29th. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn, connect, and see what research is doing to find new therapies to early predict advanced bowel cancer. Hear inspiring stories from bowel cancer patients who have navigated the challenges of diagnosis and treatment.

Contact: Sudipto Das and Flavia Genua to register or for more information.

For more information on the Marie Keating Foundation’s #NoRegrets campaign and how to get involved, visit

The charity has also launched a petition calling for a reduction in screening age and is asking people to Join us in saving lives, sign our petition today.

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