Survey Reveals Low Level of Bowel Cancer Awareness in UK

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Over half of respondents could not name one bowel cancer symptom; Women do not recognise they are at risk of bowel cancer

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The results of this survey highlight the shocking fact that public awareness of bowel cancer, in terms of its prevalence and its signs and symptoms, is alarmingly low.

To mark April’s Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, Bowel Cancer UK today announced the results of its survey, which indicates that over half of two thousand respondents could not name one single symptom of the disease. The Bowel Cancer Awareness survey also found that men are more likely to recognise bowel cancer as one of the top three cancers diagnosed in men. However, nearly 75% of female respondents did not recognise the disease as being one of the top three cancers in women.

Most of the respondents who were able to recognise a bowel cancer symptom identified bleeding or blood in the stools (poo), followed by a change in bowel habit. Encouragingly, men and women over the age of forty were more able to name one symptom of bowel cancer compared to younger respondents. The risk of bowel cancer increases with age and therefore it is important that there is greater awareness amongst an older age group.

Unsurprisingly, women recognised breast cancer as the most common cancer amongst women but they also thought they were at greater risk of being diagnosed with cervical or ovarian cancer than with bowel cancer. In fact, around 17,900 women are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year - compared to 2,830 diagnosed with cervical cancer and around 6,500 with ovarian cancer. Although 40% of women said they know someone with bowel cancer these responses suggest that women do not have a good understanding of their own risk of being diagnosed with the disease.

Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in the UK and one of the top three common cancers diagnosed in both men and women. Over 16,250 men and women in the UK die of the disease each year.

“The results of this survey highlight the shocking fact that public awareness of bowel cancer, in terms of its prevalence and its signs and symptoms, is alarmingly low,” Deborah Alsina, Chief Executive of Bowel Cancer UK, said. “We know that unlike breast, ovarian and cervical cancers which have received significant public attention, bowel cancer has a very low profile and there continues to be a general reluctance to talk about it openly or to be associated with it in the same way as these other diseases.

“Bowel Cancer UK will continue to work hard to ensure that people are aware of the symptoms of bowel cancer so that they can act on them quickly. It is crucial for people to be symptom aware and to make an appointment with their GP if they have been experiencing symptoms for at least four weeks. This will ensure bowel cancer is ruled out first and not last. We will also endeavor to increase the profile of bowel cancer as a leading cancer concern in the UK.”

Bowel cancer is highly treatable if caught early with about 90% of patients diagnosed at the earliest stage living for at least five years. Survival falls sharply when bowel cancer is diagnosed at the later stages.

Notes for Editors
For media enquiries, please contact Louise Ellis in the Bowel Cancer UK press office on 020 7386 4007.

About The Survey

Key findings from the survey:

  •     54% of men and women recognised that bowel cancer was one of the three most common cancers amongst men, although testicular cancer was incorrectly identified as one of the three by 59% of respondents
  •     Only 23% of people thought bowel cancer was one of the three most common cancers amongst women and a very low percentage of respondents (27%) identified it as one of the most common cancer killers in women
  •     Overall the respondents incorrectly thought women were more likely to be diagnosed with cervical (75%) and ovarian cancer (57%) than bowel cancer
  •     53% of respondents could not name one single symptom of bowel cancer
  •     Bleeding from the bottom or blood in the stools was the symptom most respondents could name followed by a change in bowel habit
  •     A third of respondents knew someone with bowel cancer

Survey pool:
2005 respondents were selected at random (852 men and 1153 women). The online survey was conducted between 26th – 31st January 2011.

About Bowel Cancer UK
Bowel Cancer UK aims to save lives by raising awareness of bowel cancer, campaigning for best treatment and care, and providing practical support and advice.

About Bowel Cancer
Bowel Cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in the UK, affecting both men and women. Every year just under 40,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer and more than 16,250 people die of the disease.

For more information about bowel cancer, please visit http://www.bowelcanceruk.org.uk
If you have any concerns please call the Bowel Cancer Advisory Service on free phone 0800 8 40 35 40.

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Louise Ellis
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