Men are more likely to develop bowel cancer than women and to mark Men’s Health Awareness Week from 11th to 17th June, we are looking at what men can do to improve their bowel health. 

Bowel cancer statistics

Fifty five per cent of bowel cancer cases in the UK occur in men compared to 45% in woman.

Seven per cent of men will develop the disease, while in women it is 5%.

Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women, accounting for 13% of male cancers and 11% of female cancers. 

Age also plays a part, so be mindful as the years clock up. Whilst it is entirely possible these days to be well into your 70 and 80s and still be fit and healthy, when it comes to bowel cancer, the older you are, the greater your risk. Ninety per cent of bowel cancer cases occur in people over 50 and 80% in over 60-year olds. 

Why are men more at risk?

The tendency amongst men to take less care over their health and weight than women could be a contributory factor.

Excess belly fat is known to be a risk factor in developing colon cancer as it can surround the vital organs. It is also linked to other conditions like Type 2 Diabetes, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. This tends to be more common in men.

Culturally men have not always taken their health seriously, although this does seem to be changing in more recent years.

However, as a man you may believe that going to the doctor makes you appear weak or maybe you simply think you are too busy. It is possible also that you are unaware of the impact of stress on your health too.

Men are more likely to eat an unhealthy diet than their female counterparts, with more red meat and refined fats, sugars and salt, as well as greater consumption of alcohol.

Whilst exact causes are not fully determined, bowel cancer cases increased by almost a third in the UK between the mid 1970s and 2010. In 2014 there were 72 new bowel cancer cases for every 100,000 men – another sharp rise. 

To halt the trend, men need to be aware of the symptoms to look out for. And they need to know what they can do to reduce their risk of bowel cancer.

Are you experiencing any of the symptoms listed below?

The importance of bowel cancer screening

Sometimes there are no symptoms with bowel cancer which is why bowel cancer screening is invaluable. This can detect the early signs of bowel cancer when there may be no symptoms whatsoever.

Read more about a possible new non-invasive bowel cancer screening test that is under-going a two year trial.

In England, everyone who is registered with an NHS doctor will automatically join the bowel cancer screening programme at the age of 60. This is a simple at-home test that you will receive every two years. It is important to participate as the earlier bowel cancer is detected the greater your chance of survival.

Other steps you can take to reduce your risks include:

  • Drinking less alcohol
  • Stopping smoking
  • Eating a healthy balanced diet without too much red or processed meat
  • Losing excess weight
  • Exercising and moving around more

If you are at all concerned about your bowel health, it is important to take action and speak to your doctor, or a specialist gastroenterologist who can talk you through your options.

Diagnostic testing for early signs of bowel cancer

A colonoscopy is the most thorough diagnostic test for bowel cancer, as it can spot even the very early signs. The thin tube (a colonoscope), which houses a camera and a light is inserted into the rectum and passed all the way through the colon, taking images as it travels. It is also able to take cell samples for testing in the laboratory afterwards.

Even if you are under 60, or under 50 and either have any usual bowel symptoms or have a history of colon cancer in your family, it is worth considering a private bowel cancer screening test to put your mind at rest.

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.