Lancashire cancer survivor urges others to take bowel cancer test

Date posted: 4th April 2024 Lancashire cancer survivor urges others to take bowel cancer test thumbnail image

A cancer survivor from Lancashire is encouraging anyone who is sent a screening kit to take up the offer this Bowel Cancer Awareness Month.

When Jaqui Houlker, from Clayton-le-Moors, received her bowel cancer screening home test kit through the post, she didn’t hesitate to take up the offer of getting checked.

That’s because Jaqui, 61, already had first-hand experience of the potentially lifesaving importance of screening. She explained: “Five years ago I went for my annual mammogram. There was no reason for me to suspect cancer at all – I had no lumps – and yet the check revealed that I had stage one breast cancer.

“It was a huge shock but fortunately, because my cancer was caught so early the treatment was completely successful.

“It showed to me just how vital it is to go for screening - either because it can catch cancer early or just to offer peace of mind that everything’s okay.

“So, when my bowel cancer screening test came through the post, I didn’t hesitate.”

In the North West, the bowel cancer screening programme has recently been extended so that home testing kits will be sent to everyone aged 54 to 74 who is registered with a GP.

The kit helps you to collect a small sample of your poo so that it can be sent to a lab and checked for any small traces of blood, which can be a sign of bowel cancer.

The national screening programme aims to help spot bowel cancer at the earliest stage when patients can be more successfully treated.  

Jaqui continued: “The kit was really easy to use – the instructions made everything very clear, and I sent it off straight away.

“A few days later I got a message that there were traces of blood in my poo so they wanted to do some further tests.

“I got an appointment for a colonoscopy really quickly. It all felt a bit emotional because it brought back so many memories of having cancer before – it’s always at the back of your mind – but the consultant who did the procedure and the bowel screening nurses were so lovely, they all put me at ease.

“They found quite a few polyps which are growths in the lining of the large intestine and were possibly the cause of the blood in the screening test.

“They told me they are very common and aren’t usually serious but can lead to cancer in the future. Fortunately they were able to remove them and afterwards they let me know that there were no other causes for concern.

“Doing the test and talking about poo can feel really personal but you can get over that – at the very least bowel cancer screening will be a weight off your mind  and it could save your life.”

Dr Neil Smith, primary care director at Lancashire and South Cumbria Cancer Alliance and a Blackburn GP, said: “Jaqui’s experiences show how screening can help spot issues very early on, even when patients don’t have any symptoms.

“I urge anyone who is sent a bowel cancer screening kit to take the test: don’t put it off.  Also, make sure your GP practice has your correct address so your kit is posted to the right place.”

Always see a GP if you have symptoms of bowel cancer at any age, even if you have recently completed an NHS bowel cancer screening test kit – do not wait to have a screening test.

The main symptoms of bowel cancer are:

  • changes in your poo, such as having softer poo, diarrhoea or constipation that is not usual for you
  • needing to poo more or less often than usual for you
  • blood in your poo, which may look red or black
  • bleeding from your bottom
  • often feeling like you need to poo, even if you've just been to the toilet
  • tummy pain
  • a lump in your tummy
  • bloating
  • losing weight without trying
  • feeling very tired for no reason

If you're 75 or over, you can ask for a kit every two years by phoning the free bowel cancer screening helpline on 0800 707 60 60.

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