April 2015 is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month during which a number of cancer charities including Bowel Cancer UK help to organise events to raise awareness of one of the most deadly forms of cancer in the UK. 

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, accounting for 13% of new cancer cases each year and approximately 10% of all cancer deaths annually. In 2013, over 40,000 new cases of bowel cancer were diagnosed. However, bowel cancer follows the trends of most cancers with significant improvements in survival rates over the years. In 2010/2011, bowel cancer survival rates for one year, five years and 10 years were 77%, 59% and 54% respectively compared with the 1971/1972 survival rates of only 47%, 25% and 22% respectively. Although survival rates have improved significantly over 40 years, bowel cancer still has one of the poorest survival rates. 

The two main reasons for the improvement in survival rates are greater awareness of symptoms and early diagnosis. Over the past 40 years, awareness of all forms of cancer has increased significantly – partly as a result of  campaigns like Bowel Cancer Awareness Month which highlight the three main symptoms of bowel cancer: blood in the stool, a change in bowel habit and abdominal pain. Unfortunately, these symptoms are fairly generic and may be caused by a number of less serious conditions. If however these symptoms develop and persist, a patient should always seek further medical advice. 

As the statistics show, bowel cancer is a standout example of the importance of early diagnosis. Today, diagnosis of bowel cancer at stage 1, the earliest stage, in a male carries a 98% one year survival rate and 95% five year survival rate. Diagnosis at stage 4, however, carries a 40% one year survival rate. For women, the figures show a similar trend, with 100% survival rates for one and five years for a stage 1 disease but only a 33% and 8% survival rate for one and five years for a stage 4 disease. 

William Broadbent of the Penningtons Manches clinical negligence team, commented: "While it is good to see improvements in bowel cancer survival rates, it is still one of the commonest forms of cancer with poor survival rates. Catching the disease early is key to survival. Not only should anyone concerned about their symptoms act promptly, it is equally crucial that primary care medical professionals know what to look for and make a swift diagnosis. Unfortunately, the Penningtons Manches team handles many cases of delayed diagnosis of bowel cancer. 

“Cancer Research UK, Bowel Cancer UK and the NHS Choices website are excellent sources of information if you are worried about any symptoms. Do visit your GP if you are concerned as early diagnosis is the most important factor in improving survival rates."