Any cancer diagnosis can come as a shock, but thankfully, for many people, the disease is no longer a death sentence. Bowel cancer survival rates in the UK have more than doubled in the last 40 years – up from 45% to 75% in adults overall. If you are diagnosed with bowel cancer this year, you are 7% more likely to survive than you would have been in 2012.

It is part of a downward trend for most cancers, with the exception of pancreatic and lung cancer in women, which continues to rise. 

However, the positive headlines are no reason for complacency and as bowel specialists we would urge everyone to be aware of what they can do to prevent themselves from developing cancer of the bowel and of the importance of attending for regular screening when it is offered, or if you fall into a high risk group.

3 June was Cancer Survivors Day where so to mark the day, we are looking specifically at the current statistics related to bowel cancer survival.

Everyone is different

Although declining mortality rates are something to be welcomed, it is worth remembering that everyone is different and there is no guarantee that your condition would follow the same pattern as the majority. 

On the same note, in some cases people survive far beyond what the average expectation is.

There are some distinct differences in bowel cancer survival rates according to how old you are and how far advanced the cancer is when it is detected. 

Essentially, the younger you are the more likely you are to survive the disease.

  • 15-39-year olds have a survival rate of 69%.
  • This falls off to around 65% in 40-49-year olds.
  • It continues to fall until the ages of 50-59 in women and 60-69 in men and women when survival rates increase slightly. The 60-69 year age bracket is when which national cancer screening programmes take effect.
  • By the age of 80-89, only 46% of people who are diagnosed with bowel cancer are likely to survive.

This chart is provided by Cancer Research UK and shows survival rate statistics by age, for both men and women.

Early diagnosis is key to improving survival rates

Early diagnosis is a key factor in surviving bowel cancer.

Stage 1 bowel cancer survival rates are more than 95% for both men and women, whereas by the time it reaches Stage 4, survival rates are just over 40% for men and around 35% for women. 

That is why screening is so important.

It can pick up early traces of cancer, sometimes even before there are any symptoms.

Currently, 60% of people who are invited for bowel cancer screening complete the test. If this was around 75% – the same sort of level as screening for breast and cervical cancer – another million people would have the chance of preventing early stage bowel cancer from developing. 

You can help yourself by being aware of the symptoms of possible bowel cancer to look out for. These include:

  • changes in bowel habit
  • loose bowel movements or diarrhoea
  • blood in the poo
  • abdominal pain
  • shortness of breath or fatigue
  • low blood count or anaemia
  • a history of colon polyps
  • family history of colon cancer.

Bowel cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer. These are some of the things you can do to lower your risk:

  • know the symptoms to look out for
  • stop smoking
  • maintain a healthy weight
  • cut down on alcohol
  • exercise
  • eat a healthy balanced diet rich in fibre
  • avoid too much red meat and processed meat (bacon, ham, salami)

Working with a specialist that can promptly diagnose and monitor your symptoms, will give you the best chance to get back to feeling your best.