In today’s world of easy access to medical information and ‘symptom-checkers’ on-line many of us look there as a first port of call when we sense something is not quite right with our health. But do we act on what we find?
April is ‘Bowel Cancer Awareness Month’ and the charity ‘Bowel & Cancer Research’ has published an interesting survey. Some worrying statistics have emerged as they often do. 77% of 25-34 year olds would not go to their GP as a first port of call if they suspected they had bowel disease. Nearly half of all adults surveyed said that they would avoid visiting the GP initially and over a third of respondents admitted to embarrassment. A further third said they never checked their stools for signs of bleeding.
This is particularly concerning because early diagnosis of stage 1 bowel cancer means that between 95-100% of people can survive for 5 years or more after diagnosis* a figure which reduces significantly for those with more advanced disease – at stage 4 only between 5 and 10% will survive for 5 years or more after diagnosis* (*Cancer Research UK)
The British media have made efforts to play their part in raising awareness. Regular social media users will probably have seen or heard about Deborah James, known as ‘Bowel Babe’, bravely sharing (on Twitter, Instagram and a daily newspaper column) her experiences as a 37 year old wife and mother with stage 4 incurable bowel cancer. Many of us have also heard about the much loved BBC news reader, George Allagiah, and the recurrence of his stage 4 bowel cancer.
We in COPE know that as occupational health professionals, we are not there to take the place of a good relationship between GP and patient but we can provide information and advice about ways our customers can educate, raise awareness and encourage their employees to raise health concerns with their GP. Our clients can also access our health-hub and source a wealth of helpful health related information on a broad range of health conditions which could, quite literally, be a life-saver.
If you’re reading this as an employer – are you aware that cancer is covered by the Equality Act? It’s worth noting that it’s far easier to support an employee through less complex disease than more advanced disease which is distressing, involves more time away from work for chemotherapy and requires more proactive, and challenging solutions to give much needed support to our employees.
So, back to the ‘Bowel & Cancer Research’ charity. The aptly named “I’ve got guts” campaign encourages people to get out of their comfort zone if they have concerns about their bowel health with the strap line “Let’s Get Gutsy this Bowel Cancer Awareness Month”. So if you’ve ever fancied sky diving, wing walking or wall climbing you can find out more about taking the plunge whilst raising money for a charity that works hard to educate and raise awareness.
And if you know of someone struggling or concerned because of symptoms such as bleeding; a change in bowel habits (for 3 weeks or more); abdominal pain (for 3 weeks or more) or unexplained weight loss or fatigue perhaps give them a nudge to see their GP….. I think we’d all agree prevention is better than cure but if prevention isn’t possible, earlier detection and treatment certainly is!