Bowel cancer – The facts

Almost one in 10 bowel cancer patients die within a month of diagnosis, a new report has revealed.

More than half (56%) of those diagnosed are aged over 80 and 60% are found to have the disease when they are admitted to hospital in an emergency.

That is according to analysis by the National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN).

Data reviewed by the Network shows a total of 91,980 people in England were diagnosed with bowel cancer between 2006 and 2008 and around 9,000 of those died within a month of diagnosis.

Researchers said patients could have died from the disease or possibly another cause.

Eva Morris, one of the study authors, from the University of Leeds, said: “Compared to elsewhere in Europe our survival rates are poor and, as this study shows, one of the key reasons is because a large number of patients present with rapidly fatal disease.

“And, crucially, the report highlights that these people tend to first be seen as an emergency patient in hospital and have advanced disease and can’t be offered treatment that could potentially cure them.

Bowel cancer cell
Bowel cancer cell

“But, there is a problem of older patients being more likely to die quickly after a bowel cancer diagnosis.”

Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in the UK.

Sarah Woolnough, Cancer Research UK’s director of policy, said the findings were “extremely worrying”.

“Generally, cancer risk increases with age, so it’s vital that the over-70s keep an eye out for the early signs of the disease and see their doctor if they notice any changes that are unusual for them.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “Late diagnosis makes a huge difference
to the chances of surviving cancer. That’s why we have committed £450m to help diagnose cancer earlier, and achieve our goal of saving 5,000 extra lives every year by 2015.”

Meanwhile, Macmillan Cancer Support has claimed that the deaths of thousands of elderly cancer patients every year could be prevented.

The charity said cancer patients aged over 75 are being “under-treated” on the NHS because assumptions are made about their ability to cope and they are missing out on medicines, surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

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