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Talking to your GP about bowel cancer: These two women want their stories to stop you dying of embarrassment

Grandmother Frances Hamilton, from Larne, who had bowel cancer, says screening saved her life while Moira woman Karen Mooney, who lost her mum to the disease aged 49, uses poetry to get the awareness message out. Stephanie Bell reports

Nearly half the people living in Belfast invited to get free bowel cancer screening are putting their lives at risk by ignoring the chance to have the test.

That’s the stark warning from Bowel Cancer UK which is encouraging people in the city to ensure they take part in the programme as part of Bowel Cancer Awareness Month during April.

During this month alone, nearly 1,000 people in Northern Ireland will be diagnosed with bowel cancer and over 30 people will die of the disease.

It is the UK’s second biggest cancer killer and yet it is treatable and curable if caught early.

The uptake on bowel cancer screening is low across the province with some variations — Belfast 53%, the West 62% and South Eastern region 64%.

The Bowel Cancer Screening Programme can detect bowel cancer at an early stage in people with no symptoms when it is easier to treat and a greater chance of survival.

If you’re registered with a GP and aged 60-74, you will receive a test in the post every two years. You carry out the simple test at home in private and it comes with step-by-step instructions.

The test looks for hidden blood in your stools, which could be an early sign of bowel cancer.

Niamh McDaid, senior health promotion and training officer for Northern Ireland at Bowel Cancer UK, says: “It’s quite simple, bowel cancer screening saves lives. It’s predicted that even using the current test, the screening programme will save over 2,000 lives each year by 2025.

“I would encourage everyone who’s over 60 to take the test, and for those who are younger to encourage their loved ones over 60 to complete it.

“It could save the life of you or your loved one.”

During Bowel Cancer Awareness Month the charity is looking for work places and community groups to host a talk about screening. The 30-minute talk is delivered by a trained health promotion volunteer, who often has a personal experience of bowel cancer.

The programme, which was awarded a Health and Wellbeing Award by the Royal Society of Public Health, stresses the importance of those who are of screening age to take the test, raises awareness of the disease as well as good bowel health, and highlights the symptoms and risks.

If you’re interested in hosting a talk at your work place, community group and any other place that has an existing group or charity, visit or email

The charity is also urging people to take part in a special fund raiser — Be a Star Bake a Cake — to mark Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, details of which can also be found at

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