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Bowel cancer survivor in screening plea

By Victoria O'Hara

Published 17/06/2015

William Edgar
William Edgar

Screening for bowel cancer needs to be rolled out to include younger people in Northern Ireland to prevent further deaths, a cancer survivor has said.

William Edgar, from Kilkeel, was diagnosed with stage two bowel cancer in April 2013 when he was 33.

He says thanks to the quick referral by his GP he underwent surgery within two weeks.

More than 400 people die from it every year in Northern Ireland, making it our second biggest cancer killer.

Mr Edgar, a stonemason, was talking after a major new UK study suggested that one in five young people with bowel cancer took more than a year to be diagnosed with the deadly disease.

It also found that a fifth of young people had to see their GP five times or more before they were eventually referred to a specialist.

Experts say the findings highlight the "shocking variations in treatment, care and support for younger people" with the illness.

Mr Edgar was first concerned after sufferring from diarrhoea and noticed he was also bleeding when using the toilet. An appointment was made with his GP.

"It is with all credit to my GP who saw me and acted quickly, referring me to Daisy Hill," he said.

A colonoscopy revealed a tumour, which the consultant described as the size of a watch face. "I can't complain at all about the treatment I received," he said.

"But I have a problem with doctors or specialists being a bit blasé that this disease is really just in the older patients and not in people this young. Should they be thinking of sending out the screening tests to younger people and not just the over 60s?"

Currently bowel cancer screening is offered to both men and women aged 60-74.

More than 400 bowel cancer sufferers under 50 were surveyed for the research - the largest ever poll of its kind among the age group. Deborah Alsina, chief executive of Bowel Cancer UK, said: "Our survey highlights that younger people with bowel cancer experience significant delays in diagnosis. This is because they do not think bowel cancer is a possibility, and in part because neither do their clinicians, but it could be."

She said 2,100 people aged under 50 were diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK - a figure which has risen nearly 25% in the past decade.

The Never Too Young survey also found that more than half (57%) were not aware of the symptoms of bowel cancer prior to being diagnosed. And even where they were aware of symptoms, more than a quarter (27%) put off seeing their GP for more than three months.

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