Belfast Telegraph

Bowel cancer survivor Lynn Haveron leads call for more awareness of warning signs

By Adrian Rutherford

Too many people are unaware of the main symptoms of Northern Ireland's second biggest cancer killer, a charity has warned.

Only 2% of adults here could name the five key symptoms of bowel cancer, a survey found.

Four in 10 (41%) were not aware of any of the symptoms, and almost a quarter (23%) could only name one.

The findings emerged after a poll commissioned by Bowel Cancer UK and Beating Bowel Cancer.

Bowel cancer is Northern Ireland's third most common cancer. This month 93 people here will be diagnosed with bowel cancer and 34 people will die of the disease.

However, experts say bowel cancer is treatable and curable, especially if diagnosed early. Nearly everyone diagnosed at the earliest stage will survive, but this drops significantly as the disease develops.

However, only around 15% of people are diagnosed at the earliest stage of the disease.

Lynn Haveron (54) from Newtownabbey was diagnosed with stage 2 bowel cancer when she was 52, and has urged people to be aware of the signs.

"I was constantly feeling very ill with cold and flu-like symptoms, I had tummy aches and I was losing weight. When I started bleeding my GP sent me for tests," she said.

"I took a picture of the blood that I was seeing and showed it to a different doctor, who straight away referred me for a colonoscopy. This was when I was diagnosed with stage 2 bowel cancer and it had spread to my pelvis. I had five weeks' worth of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. I then had surgery to have a stoma put in.

"My life has totally changed and living with a stoma can be difficult. However, the way I see it is I'm alive and every day is so precious to me. I live every day like it's my last and do things I'd never have done before."

The most recognisable bowel cancer symptom in Northern Ireland, which less than half of people identified (43%), is spotting blood when you go to the loo.

The other four key symptoms - tummy pains, change of bowel habit, extreme weight loss and unexplained tiredness - have a very low rate of awareness.

Former Republic of Ireland and Everton footballer Kevin Sheedy, who was diagnosed with the disease in 2012, urged people to be more aware.

"I noticed I was going to the toilet a lot more and then I started finding blood," he said.

"I remembered listening to an awareness advert I'd heard on the radio and I knew I had to book an appointment with my GP urgently.

"I was diagnosed with bowel cancer but luckily I was treated quickly. I had surgery to remove the tumour before it had spread elsewhere and I didn't need any further treatment. The most important thing is to see your GP if you notice any symptoms."

Bernie McGarry from Bowel Cancer UK and Beating Bowel Cancer said: "Our vision is that by 2050 no one will die from bowel cancer, and raising awareness of the symptoms is a key step to achieving this."

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