Embarrassment among reasons why people put off treatment for bowel cancer

Bowel cancer is second most common cause of cancer-related death in Ireland

One in five people experiencing bowel cancer symptoms delayed seeking medical attention because they were embarrassed, according to research from the Irish Cancer Society.

A survey, published to markthe beginning of Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, found one in three people with symptoms put off seeking help because of perceived long waits in the public health system, a similar figure haven’t made a medical appointment because they don’t think their symptoms are serious enough, while one-quarter put off a hospital or GP visit because of costs.

Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related death in Ireland, with about 2,500 people diagnosed each year. Signs and symptoms of bowel cancer include lasting change in bowel habit, blood in stools or rectal bleeding, a lump, pain or discomfort in the stomach area or rectum.

Risk factors include family history, dietary habits, smoking, alcohol, obesity and inactivity, the society said. The earlier bowel cancer is detected the better the outcome for the patient.


Despite the prevalence of the disease, the survey carried out by Core Research found one-quarter of people don’t know when they are eligible for bowel cancer screening. The national BowelScreen service is available for anyone aged 59-69.

“It’s really concerning that there are people sitting at home with persistent symptoms of bowel cancer and are putting off going to their GP,” Dr Grainne O’Kane, consultant medical oncologist at Trinity St James’s Cancer Research Institute, said. “Although most of the time these symptoms can be caused by other conditions, it’s so important to get checked out.”

Those over 60 years of age account for three in four diagnoses of bowel cancer, Dr O’Kane said.

“I’m urging younger family members to push your parents, your aunt, your uncle or grandparent to make sure they are signed up for screening. What has been disappointing is to learn that some of those offered screening are not availing of the service. It’s important that we all stick to guidelines where possible, so that cancers can be found at an earlier stage.”

Oncologists were also worried about the significant increase in bowel cancer in people under 50 around the world. “It is clear that we need to lower the age for screening as soon as possible In line with international guidelines,” she said. “So no matter what your age, the sooner you are seen by a doctor, if you have symptoms, the better treatment options and outcomes.”

Jennifer Deegan, a 45-year-old bowel cancer patient, urged anyone with signs or symptoms to seek help immediately. “Before I was diagnosed, I was one of many my age and younger, who were not aware of the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer – many of which only show at a later stage,” she said.

“I want people to hear my story and think ‘this could be me’ and to get themselves checked out at once if they notice anything out of the ordinary – my persistence is what has saved my life.”

The Irish Cancer Society is urging anyone with symptoms to visit their GP. Anyone with questions or concerns about bowel cancer can contact the Irish Cancer Society’s support line on Freephone 1800 200 700 or visit cancer.ie/bowel for more information.

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly is Dublin Editor of The Irish Times