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11 April 2019
Cancer care
Digestive health and wellbeing
Consultants
In the media

April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month. Consultant Gastroenterologist Dr Siwan Thomas-Gibson tells the Marylebone Journal about the signs that people should be aware of: “The bowel can produce a lot of different symptoms; luckily many of them are not suggestive of serious illness. 

Dr Siwan Thomas-Gibson

"However, there are some that we call ‘alarm symptoms’, and any person suffering from these should visit their doctor as a matter of urgency. These are:

  • bleeding from the bottom, either fresh red bleeding or blood mixed in with the stool;
  • a significant change in bowel movements that persists for more than a couple of weeks;
  • a mass or a lump in the stomach area that does not go away;
  • or, unexplained weight loss over a period of a few months.

"Bowel cancer can also cause anaemia, leading to the patient getting breathless or constantly feeling weak or tired.” 

Dr Thomas-Gibson says, the best way to combat bowel cancer is through screening: “With bowel cancer, we are not only looking for the disease, but also its precursors. What I find very exciting is that an effective screening programme can prevent a great many people from developing this cancer at all, as well as helping us to catch it early in others. While we call it ‘bowel cancer screening’, we are also looking for non-cancerous abnormalities that might develop into cancer.

“One group of people who are at higher risk, irrespective of their age or lifestyle, are those who have a strong family history of bowel cancer, particularly if it has occurred in more than one first-degree relative, or if a sibling or parent has developed bowel cancer under the age of 50. For these people, screening at a much earlier age than usual is a good idea.

“Real innovation in screening programmes is about efficient and effective communication between the medical world and the patient and between the clinicians themselves. I always say that colonoscopy is a true team effort, with the patient being part of the team.”

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