Early diagnosis of bowel cancer essential

Colorectal cancer (CRC) is already one of the most threatening malignancies, and likely to become even more of a scourge as the population ages, puts on weight, becomes more sedentary and continues to eat full English breakfasts.

It is possible to reduce one's risk by eating more fruit, fish and vegetables and less red meat, exercising more, drinking less alcohol and not smoking at all, but such a lifestyle probably needs to be maintained from early in life for maximum benefit, and most of the risk is not avoidable anyway.

After all, we cannot change our genes. Not everyone can avoid living in Scotland or Hawaii, or working nights, women cannot avoid growing tall, and it is bad luck to suffer from irritable bowel syndrome. Furthermore, as in many areas of health, bad things can still happen to many people at low risk, while many other people at high risk may never experience the problem they're at risk of at all.

Hence the importance of early diagnosis and screening, as the continuing professional development article in July's Primary Health Care outlines. 

Fortunately, the disease process of CRC lends itself to screening, and the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme is a major public health initiative with the potential to be a major force for good, and must receive our support.

Even such comprehensive screening cannot, however, detect all potential colorectal cancers, and is nowhere offered to the under 50s. Hence the need for early diagnosis, the need for primary care and community nurses to educate our patients in the early signs of CRC, and to encourage them to overcome embarrassment and squeamishness to talk to nurses and our GP colleagues, about - well - poo. 

About the author

Paul Beland is a specialist nurse in palliative care at the Macmillan and Hudson Palliative Care Centre, Wisbech