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Get Over the 'Poo Taboo' and Help Fight Cancer

Older people could help save their own lives if they can lose their inhibitions over the ‘poo taboo’ and take part in a trial to cut down on bowel cancer deaths that was launched today.

Bowel cancerCoventry and Warwickshire has been picked for a national trial to screen older people to catch symptoms so action can be taken before the killer disease takes over.

Health officials think there could be a problem of embarrassment with people having to collect their own samples of poo, smear them on to a card with a lollipop stick and then post them to a hospital.

It might cause people to snigger, or be revolted, but health officials are convinced that lives will be saved, if they can encourage of those they wish to help to overcome inhibitions and get them to take part.

Letters have started to go out this week inviting people to join in. 

They will be sent out over the next two years so that every patient aged 50 to 69 with a Coventry and Warwickshire doctor will have been invited to take part.

The pilot will be analysed and is likely to go nationwide, if people do respond and take the test.

It will mean packages being sent to 172,000 men and women, and it is hoped at least 60 per cent will take part, and ideally many more.

Bowel cancer can lurk in bodies for up to 10 years before it is detected, but when symptoms start to show, those afflicted may only have weeks left to live. Only half of people who have developed it can be saved under the present programme.

World Cup hero Bobby Moore and TC sports presenter Helen Rollason were lost to bowel cancer. Lynn Faulds Wood, the former Watchdog TV presenter, was able to seek help and was saved.

David Laughton, chief executive of the Walsgrave NHS Trust said of the trial:

“Coventry and Warwickshire has been picked because of the population. With about one million people, some deprived areas and some very affluent areas which means we reflect the country as a whole.

“We are going into this with our eyes open. It is a pilot and I have no doubt there will be problems on the way.”

He said it was also a non-teaching hospital and already had a good reputation on cancer care.

Juliet Patnik, co coordinator with the NHS Cancer screening programme, said:

“We are looking to reduce the figure by at least 10 per cent over the next two years. What we are leaning in Coventry and Warwickshire will be a model for the rest of the country.”

She said there were 34,000 new cases of bowel cancer each year in the UK, with 17,000 people dying.

Ron Parker, consultant surgeon and director of the pilot, explained that bowel cancer was ‘lurking danger’ with people having ’10 silent years’ where the person probably did not know they had it, followed by about two months of symptoms.

But by then, it is probably too late for many people. He said this screening progamme won’t save everyone, but it will help many people:

“This is a break through. We have had nothing like this in the past.”

Medical staff want to stress that the tests are safe, simple and private, with no risks and no side effects, and will end up saving lives. If the scheme end up going across the country, about 2,500 people will be saved each year.

They stress that eating more fruit and vegetables can only help, and ideally people should have five pieces of fruit and veg each day to help prevent bowel cancer.

Some people finding blood in their stools when they go to the toilet put it down to piles, or are embarrassed to seek further help.

The trials will look for blood in poo, which is a sign - but not a  conclusive one - that people have bowel cancer. 

It is thought about two per cent of people who send in their samples will be asked back for further tests.

Three Warwickshire people who have successful overcome cancer treatment gave their backing to the scheme which was launched today at Walsgrave Hospital in Coventry.

Pamela Fox, a college lecturer from Rugby, is now in the clear after having a potential cancerous polyp removed from her colon.

She first noted blood on toilet paper after she had been to the loo and went to her GP, and was then referred to the rectal bleed clinic in the town.

She said:

“Immediately following this appointment, I had a flexible sigmoidoscopy and a polyp was removed. The surgeon, Mr Parker, decided that it would be safer to remove part of my colon as the poly showed signs of malignant cells.

“The operations took place on 1 August 1998 and after a six-monthly and yearly check-up I have been clear to date.

“My advice to anyone is to be aware, look out for the symptoms – do not be embarrassed to talk about them. Early detection of bowel cancer is vital, hence my support for the NHS Colorectal Screening Programme.”

Anyone with queries should ring 01788 545161 on weekdays from 9am to 5pm

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CWN / Health / Coventry Health Authority / 7 Sep 00

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