The number of people checking bowel cancer symptoms on the NHS website increased tenfold after the death of Dame Deborah James, the health service said.
Latest figures from the NHS show that 23,274 visits were made to NHS webpages for bowel cancer on Wednesday, up from 2,000 the day before.
Dame Deborah’s family confirmed on Tuesday that the campaigner and podcaster had died aged 40 after being diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2016.
Dame Deborah died on Tuesday after spending her final weeks receiving end-of-life care at home with her husband, Sebastien, and their two children.
In a statement released by her family, some final words from her were:
“Find a life worth enjoying; take risks; love deeply; have no regrets; and always, always have rebellious hope. And finally, check your poo – it could just save your life.”
Deborah James (left) and Steve Bland. The number of people checking bowel cancer symptoms on the NHS website increased tenfold after the death of Dame Deborah James, the health service said. Photo credit: PA Wire/PA Images
The NHS has also urged people to not to be “prudish about poo”, warning that people are often reluctant to talk about symptoms due to embarrassment.
Symptoms of bowel cancer include: changes in bowels habits, such as pooing more often than usual or a different consistency; pain in the tummy or abdominal pain, which persists for more than a few days; unexpected weight loss and unexplained fatigue.
NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said:
“Dame Deborah James is an inspiration to us all – her death this week has touched the nation.
“People often don’t feel comfortable speaking about their cancer diagnosis and treatment but Deborah bravely speaking out about her personal journey has prompted thousands more people to check the symptoms. There is no doubt about it – this has been life-saving.
“We must now continue Deborah’s fantastic work in her honour.
“Talking about cancer saves lives. So, our message to you is – don’t be prudish about poo, get checked out if you have worrying signs or symptoms.”
Cancer Research UK chief executive Michelle Mitchell said:
“Dame Deborah James shared her story with the world to raise awareness of the importance of early diagnosis, break down barriers and challenge taboos around cancer.
“Deborah’s honesty and humour has changed the conversation around cancer and she’s undoubtedly had a huge impact on raising awareness. We saw an increase of 120% to our bowel cancer information pages the day after she passed away, compared to the day before. We hope that the impact of this increased awareness of the disease will be felt for years to come.
“It’s important that people contact their GP if they notice any changes to their body which aren’t normal for them. While most changes won’t be cancer, if it is, an early diagnosis can make all the difference.”
Health Secretary and Bromsgrove MP Sajid Javid added:
“Dame Deborah James has left an incredible legacy and changed the national conversation around cancer. These figures reflect the powerful and lifesaving impact she has had – inspiring countless people across the country to get informed, get checked and speak up.
“Having lost my father to bowel cancer, I know how devastating this disease can be, and we must continue to break down barriers around what she called the ‘C word’ – encouraging people to have open and honest discussions.
“Our upcoming 10-Year cancer plan will build on this with a focus on early diagnosis to help save more lives.”
Bowel cancer is England’s fourth most common cancer, with around 37,000 new cases in England each year.
Throughout her journey, Deborah James shared candid Instagram posts on her progress and videos showing her dancing her way through treatment – her positivity was truly inspirational.
So, from the symptoms James wanted everyone to check to the treatments available, here’s what we should all understand about bowel cancer…
How common is bowel cancer?
Dr Lisa Wilde, director of research and external affairs at Bowel Cancer UK, says:
“Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK and the second biggest cancer killer, affecting both men and women. Every 15 minutes someone is diagnosed with bowel cancer, which is nearly 43,000 people every year.”
What are the main symptoms?
Dr Nikki Ramskill, GP at the digital healthcare provider Livi says:
“Persistent and unexplained changes in your bowel habits – you may notice that you need to poo more frequently and your stools are looser.”
What’s normal for you might be abnormal for someone else.
Noticing blood in your poo or coming from your bottom is another sign,
“Often it is dark red or brown in colour,” she says.
While “unexplained weight loss; extreme tiredness for no obvious reason; a pain or lump in your tummy” are other warning signs adds Wilde.
In some cases, bowel cancer can stop digestive waste passing though the bowel.
“This is a medical emergency and you should seek urgent medical care,” warns Ramskill.
Signs of this happening include sickness with constant swelling around your abdomen and abdominal pain brought on by eating.
Could the symptoms mean something else?
Quite possibly, but it’s so important to find out what’s causing any of these signs.
“Having these symptoms does not always mean you have bowel cancer – they can often be a sign of other common conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), an infection, or inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis,” says Ramskill.
What will happen at the GP appointment?
It’s a good idea to keep a symptoms diary ahead of your appointment to discuss with the doctor.
“On the day, your doctor may want to examine your tummy and bottom to check for any lumps. You may also be asked to take a blood test – this will check for an iron deficiency which can be a sign of bowel cancer,” says Ramskill.
“In some cases, you may also be required to provide a stool sample, this is so that your poo can be checked for blood – another symptom of bowel cancer.”
How treatable is it?
“Bowel cancer is treatable and curable especially if diagnosed early,” says Wilde.
“Nearly everyone survives bowel cancer if diagnosed at the earliest stage, but this drops significantly as the disease develops. Early diagnosis really does save lives.
“Being aware of the symptoms and visiting your GP if you are concerned can help increase chances of an early diagnosis.”
What is a FIT test?
Your GP might request you do a FIT (Faecal Immunochemical Test) which helps to detect bowel cancer at an early stage, when treatment has the best chance of working, explains Wilde. It can be carried out at home.
“The test can also find polyps (non-cancerous growths), which might develop into cancer. Polyps can usually be removed, to lower the risk of bowel cancer.
“The FIT test looks for hidden blood in poo and you can take the test in the privacy of your own home. The test has a stick attached to the lid, which is used to take one small poo sample and placed back into the tube. It’s then sent to a screening centre and you will be notified of your results in about two weeks,” she says.
Your doctor may also refer you for a colonoscopy at hospital if they suspect something isn’t quite right about your bowel or colon. It’s a very common procedure – thousands are carried out across the country every week.
“The procedure involves an endoscopist putting a thin flexible tube with a camera on the end up your bottom so they can see the inside of your bowel,” says Wilde.
“[It] gives a close-up view of the inside of your bowel so they can clearly see if there’s anything wrong. A colonoscopy can feel a little uncomfortable, but it’s an important part of maintaining good all-round health. Most people who have a colonoscopy won’t have bowel cancer. But, if bowel cancer is detected at its earliest stage, nearly everybody is treated successfully.”
What treatment is available?
“If you are diagnosed with bowel cancer, you will be cared for by a multidisciplinary team who will discuss your treatment options depending on which part of your bowel is affected, how far the cancer has spread and your general health,” says Ramskill.
“This can include surgery combined with chemotherapy, radiotherapy or biological treatments.”
In some cases a colostomy or ileostomy (stoma) may be needed.
Donate to Deborah James’ fund at bowelbabe.org.
For more information about Bowel Cancer click here.