Bowel cancer screening lottery must end, says Saltdean resident

Michelle Cheetham (Photograph: Paul Hazelwood) BHA-0010
Michelle Cheetham (Photograph: Paul Hazelwood) BHA-0010

A bowel cancer survivor has said the screening age should be lowered to 50.

Michele Cheetham, 54, from Saltdean in Brighton is backing charity Beating Bowel Cancer’s call to have the bowel cancer screening age equalised throughout the UK.

Michelle and her family

Michelle and her family

She said: “If the screening age was reduced from 60 to 50 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to bring it in line with Scotland, thousands of bowel cancer patients each year would have the opportunity of being diagnosed at an earlier stage.”

Beating Bowel Cancer campaigners argue that if the bowel screening age was lowered, over 4,000 patients a year in their 50s would be given the chance of being diagnosed early (at stage 1) which offers a 97 per cent survival rate.

Without screening the majority of these patients will not be diagnosed until a later stage through their GP or A&E. At a later stage the cancer is more difficult to treat successfully and their odds of survival could be reduced to as little as seven per cent, according to Cancer Research.

Michele has a very personal reason for supporting this cause because she was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2015. She’d noticed blood in her poo and went to her GP. She was given a rectal examination and send her straight to hospital. Within the next six weeks she had a CT scan, MRI scan and keyhole surgery. She was then told they had removed everything and there was no need for chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Michele is now on a five-year plan of regular blood tests, colonoscopies and scans.

She said: “I was diagnosed in my early fifties with rectal cancer. I was completely unaware of the symptoms and I believe very strongly that early screening along with creating an awareness of the symptoms can only be of benefit. It’s is not very pleasant to discuss our bowels and bowel functions but we need to break down the barriers of embarrassment to make people more aware. If like me, people are diagnosed at an earlier stage then the survival rates are excellent. Does the question really need to be asked? Of course screening should be lowered to 50.”

Judith Brodie, director of services at Beating Bowel Cancer, said: “Bowel cancer is the UK’s second biggest cancer killer and it’s time we changed the odds for patients in their 50s in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It’s shocking that they are not being given the same chance of survival as those in Scotland, where they are already screened from the age of 50. They are being badly let down and they deserve better.

“With the increase in the ageing population, more and more patients are going to be affected unless something changes now. There is no excuse for allowing this inequality to carry on.”

Michele said: “We all need to get behind Beating Bowel Cancer’s campaign to make sure people in their 50s throughout the UK are screened for this awful disease.

“I’d urge all the 50-year-olds in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, their family and friends – and those who will one day be in that age group – to support this change to bowel cancer screening to ensure that the odds are on their side in the future.”

Find out more about Beating Bowel Cancer’s campaign at www.beatingbowelcancer.org

Symptoms of bowel cancer

Anyone experiencing one or more of these symptoms for three weeks or more should go and see their GP:

- Bleeding from the bottom or blood in your poo

- A persistent change in bowel habit, especially going more often or looser stools

- Abdominal pain, especially if severe

- A lump in your tummy

- Unexplained weight loss or tiredness