Bowels remain one of our society’s last taboos and men are particularly reluctant to discuss anything relating to their bowel function. The problem is that this reluctance is putting men’s lives at risk.
One in 15 men in the UK (and one in 18 women) will be diagnosed with bowel cancer during their lifetime. Bowel cancer is the third biggest cancer killer among men. In the UK each year there are around 16,000 deaths from the disease.
But, if it is caught in its earliest stages it is treatable. Nine out of 10 people who are diagnosed in the earliest stage will survive for at least five years compared to just one in 10 of people diagnosed in the latest stage.
June welcomed Men’s Health Week from 10th to 16th June, where campaigners rallied to raise awareness of men’s health issues and encourage men of all ages to seek help for any symptoms they are experiencing.
As bowel specialists who deal with often advanced stages of bowel cancer, we urge you to step forward and speak to healthcare professionals, your GP, specialist doctors, and family and friends.
Why men don’t visit their doctor
So, with so much at stake, why do men often delay going to the doctor if they are experiencing symptoms that could indicate bowel cancer?
Embarrassment is obviously a factor. As bowel specialists, we cannot stress strongly enough that there is no need to put your life at risk because you feel embarrassed. We deal with bowel conditions day in day out. It really is completely routine for us although we never lose sight of the fact that many patients feel embarrassed and we treat everyone with dignity and respect, doing whatever we can to put people at their ease.
Cultural factors also play a part in men’s reluctance to go to the doctor. According to a 2014 survey by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men are half as likely to go to the doctor as women over a two-year period. They are twice as likely as women to have no contact with a doctor or health professional throughout their adult lives and three times as likely to go more than five years without seeing a doctor.
An online survey by the Orlando Health hospital system asked men to give their reasons why they don’t go to the doctor.
- The top reason given was being too busy (22%).
- Slightly below this was fear of finding out what might be wrong (21%).
- Followed by feeling uncomfortable about physical examinations particularly prostate or rectal (18%).
If you notice any of the symptoms of bowel cancer it is important to go to the doctor as soon as possible and not to allow busyness or embarrassment to delay you.
If you do have bowel cancer, the quicker you are diagnosed the more successful the treatment will be. And if you don’t the quicker cancer is ruled out the sooner you will regain your peace of mind.
Symptoms of bowel cancer
Here are the symptoms to look out for:
- Blood in your faeces or from your anus
- A change in bowel habits that lasts for three weeks or longer
- Unexplained weight loss
- Extreme tiredness with no obvious cause
- A pain or lump in your abdomen
These symptoms don’t necessarily mean you have bowel cancer as they can also be caused by other less serious conditions but it is important to get them checked so you can rule out cancer.
Bowel Cancer Screening – London
You don’t have to wait for symptoms before seeking medical help. Screening is a highly effective way of identifying bowel cancer in its earliest stages and it can even pick up pre-cancerous growths that may develop into bowel cancer.
NHS screening programmes begin at aged 60 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and there is an additional screening test at aged 55 in some areas.
Private screening is available for people of any age and has the advantage that you can arrange it at a date and time to suit you.
Private screening also enables you to have a colonoscopy, which is the most thorough screening test available.