Press release

Don’t flush away your toilet worries

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The government’s first ever national cancer campaign to raise awareness of the symptoms of bowel cancer will be launched today

The government’s first ever national cancer campaign to raise awareness of the symptoms of bowel cancer will be launched today by Care Services Minister Paul Burstow.

Public awareness of the symptoms of bowel cancer is low. But spotting the signs early and getting medical advice could save people’s lives.

Featuring real GPs, the ‘Be Clear on Cancer’ bowel cancer campaign will encourage people who have had blood in their poo or loose poo for more than three weeks to see their doctor. The new adverts aim to make people aware of the symptoms of bowel cancer and make it easier for them to discuss this with their GP. 

Bowel cancer affects 33,000 people every year in England with the majority of cases occurring in people over the age of 55. There are 13,000 deaths a year but it can be less deadly if spotted and diagnosed early. More than 90 per cent of people diagnosed with bowel cancer at an early stage survive for at least five years compared with only six per cent of those diagnosed at a late stage.

If England’s bowel cancer survival rates matched the best in Europe an additional 1,700 lives would be saved every year. 

Care Services Minister Paul Burstow said:

“No one likes talking about their poo - it’s embarrassing. But bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer so we need to get over the embarrassment and talk to someone about it.

“The “Be Clear on Cancer” campaign uses simple messages to make people aware of the key symptoms of bowel cancer and to give them the confidence to talk to their GP if they notice the symptoms.

“No matter how embarrassing it is, talking to your GP can help save your life.”

Dr Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said:

“Detecting bowel tumours early, before they’ve had a chance to spread, can significantly stack the odds in the patient’s favour. Bowel cancer is currently the UK’s second biggest cancer killer. If people respond to this campaign - and take up bowel screening when invited to do so - we have a chance of pushing bowel cancer well down the league table of killers. We urge people to overcome their fear. For most, any symptoms will turn out to be nothing to worry about. But for those people with cancer, the earlier they go to their doctor, the more likely they are to survive.”

Mark Flannagan, Chief Executive, Beating Bowel Cancer said:

“We’re delighted to be supporting this campaign. Bowel cancer can be beaten if diagnosed early. Most changes in bowel habits probably won’t be cancer but if they are it is much better to be diagnosed and treated as quickly as possible.
By increasing awareness of bowel cancer and encouraging people to act on their symptoms, this campaign has the potential to save thousands of lives. So if you notice a change that lasts three weeks or more  - whether it’s looser poo, blood in your poo or anything else that is unusual for you, go and tell your doctor as it could save your life.”
Deborah Alsina, CEO, Bowel Cancer UK said: 

“We believe the Be Clear on Cancer bowel cancer campaign will play a vital role in raising awareness and saving lives. Often people don’t recognise that they are experiencing symptoms of bowel cancer until it’s too late.

“Bowel cancer needs to be diagnosed as early as possible so treatment can prevent the cancer from spreading and improve survival chances. It is crucial that people understand that recognising the symptoms and telling their GP could save their life.”

Actor Frazer Hines, who had bowel cancer said:
“I’m proof that spotting signs and symptoms for bowel cancer and talking to your doctor early can be a life saver. There’s nothing to be scared or embarrassed about. This campaign is very important and people need to take notice. Lives can be saved by simply visiting the doctor early on to discuss any concerns or worries - however big or small.”

Charlene White, ITN Newsreader, said:

“I wholeheartedly support this campaign. I lost my Mum to bowel cancer when I was 21 so I am very passionate about it as an issue. So many lives could be saved if people look out for the symptoms and go to their doctor early. Your health is very important so if you’re worried about something or you think you have the symptoms please book that appointment.”

The ‘Be Clear on Cancer’ campaign was piloted in the South West and East of England in January 2011.  In those areas, GPs saw the number of people over the age of 50 presenting with the relevant symptoms increase by 48 per cent - about one extra patient per practice per week.

The adverts will appear on TV, radio, online and in newspapers in England for nine weeks from today (Monday 30 January) until the end of March.

  • Ends -
    Notes to editors:
    1. For further information please contact the Department of Health press office on 020 7210 5221.
    2. The Be Clear on Cancer campaign is part of the National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative, run in partnership with Cancer Research UK, to improve England’s cancer survival rates
    3. The Government’s priorities for cancer as set out in Improving Outcomes: A Strategy for Cancer (January 2011) include the ambition to save an additional 5,000 lives per year by 2014/2015. To support this, the Department of Health is launching the first national campaign to raise awareness of the symptoms of bowel cancer.
    4. The Government’s Improving Outcomes: A Strategy for Cancer is backed with more than £750m over four years to implement a range of actions that will improve cancer outcomes. £450m of this is to focus on improving early diagnosis including the extra costs for diagnostic tests and treatment.
    5. Bowel cancer symptoms

The main symptoms are:
• Blood in poo for three weeks or looser poo for three weeks or more
Other symptoms include:
• A pain or lump in your tummy
• Feeling more tired than usual for some time
• Unexplained weight loss

6. Bowel cancer stats
• Bowel cancer is England’s second most common cancer, with around 33,000 new cases each year. 
• It affects both men and women and is the second biggest cancer killer responsible for more than 13,000 deaths a year. 
• Around 14,600  cases were diagnosed in women and 18,000  in men in England in 2008
• Nine out of ten people diagnosed with the disease are aged over 55 and those with a family history are more at risk. 
• Two thirds of bowel cancer develop in the colon, while the remaining third developing in the rectum
• Based on analysis of cancer survival rates in Europe, it is estimated that an additional 1,700 lives could be saved each year if England’s bowel cancer survival rate matched the best in Europe.
• Bowel cancer is also referred to as colorectal cancer. It includes both cancer of the colon and cancer of the rectum.
• Of all the people in England and Wales diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer, more than 50 out of every 100 (50%) live for at least 5 years after their diagnosis. Recent estimates show that about 46% of people with rectal cancer and nearly 50% with colon cancer live for at least 10 years. This has improved greatly over the past 30 years.
• Other stats available on the CRUK website.