Dr Martin's Blog

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What do Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II and Sharon Osbourne have in common?

They're all long-term survivors of bowel cancer. Sadly, two of them are no longer with us, but this is due to unrelated causes.


Ronald Reagan was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 1985, had surgery and lived another 19 years, until Alzheimers took its toll. Pope John Paul II, the second longest serving pope in history and survivor of two assassination attempts, had surgery for bowel cancer in 1992 and went on to live another 13 years, until his death - a result of a urinary tract infection - aged 84. And Sharon, publically diagnosed with bowel cancer on MTV’s hit show The Osbournes in 2002, is still going strong today.


April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month. Bowell cancer (technically known as Colorectal cancer, and often described as colon cancer) is the UK's second biggest cancer killer, but it shouldn't be. It is in fact very treatable, particularly when diagnosed early.


There is now a screening programme in Scotland for all men and women between 50 and 74. The examination, which is done at home, looks for blood hidden in bowel motion, which can be an early sign of a cancer or a small growth called a polyp. If any is found, the patient is invited to undergo a test to look closely at the inside of the bowel for cancers or polyps - this can be done by a flexible camera (colonoscopy) or by a special scan (CT colonoscopy). Fortunately, most blood in bowel motions is due to polyps and not cancer.


According to a recent report by MacMillan Cancer Support, the greatest improvement in average cancer survival time in the past 40 years has been for bowel cancer - from 7 months in 1970's, to 10 years today - thanks to new treatment advances in surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.


So the message is get involved in screening, and see your doctor if:
you notice blood;
how often you go to the toilet changes;
you start having stomach pains:
you don't feel your bowels have emptied completely when you go to the toilet.


Early diagnosis is really important, as Sharon Osbourne explains "It's not painful and what is more important to you: Your life and your loved ones or a little bit of discomfort for an hour? It's an hour of your life, for your life."


Posted by Martin Errington on 04/10 at 01:16 PM