How I had to press for a diagnosis of bowel cancer

Simon Burgess, of Dinnington, who is having treatment for bowel cancer.
Simon Burgess, of Dinnington, who is having treatment for bowel cancer.

SIMON Burgess was shocked, but also relieved, when he finally found out he had bowel cancer.

The 38-year-old transport manager had been worried about the symptoms for six months. Now that the diagnosis had been made, something could be done about it.

Thankfully, in his case the disease had not spread to his lung or liver. He had an operation at the Thornbury Hospital in Sheffield and is now having chemotherapy to make sure all the cancer has been removed.

But he was thanks to his own persistence and a job change to one that brought private healthcare that allowed him to get to grips with the situation.

Simon, who lives in Dinnington with his wife, Nikki, first knew something was wrong when he went on a skiing holiday in February last year, and noticed he was passing blood. He also had an infection at the time which tended to mask the symptoms.

But when they were still there several months later - occasionally he passed blood and needed to go to the toilet more frequently - he went to see his GP, who said he should monitor it in the next month and return if the problem did not go away.

It was the private colonoscopy that indicated a cancerous tumour, confirmed by an MRI scan leading to surgery last November to remove it, as well as ten to 12 polyps in his bowel.

The chemotherapy will continue until June, with his surgeon confident that the cancer has been removed with the tumour. “All you can do it make sure that it’s gone and it’s not going to come back,” says Simon.

Yet, ahead of Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, he believes “there is something lacking in the process” of going to a GP with the symptoms.

Too often, they are put down to causes such as stress or piles. From the start, the emphasis should be on finding out whether it is bowel cancer, he says.

It can be especially worrying and dangerous for people aged under 50, as bowel cancer is often associated with older people.

Simon’s experience is backed by Bowel Cancer UK, whose ‘Never too Young’ report reveals a picture of delayed diagnosis, failures in screening, feelings of isolation and loneliness as well as unmet support needs among younger bowel cancer patients.

Almost half of women and 10% of men either saw their GP more than five times before being referred to a specialist, or were diagnosed as an emergency before being referred.

Chief executive officer Deborah Alsina said: “It is simply unacceptable that younger bowel cancer patients are experiencing delays in diagnosis because they are considered too young when clearly the statistics prove, whilst rare, it can and does happen.

“We must ensure that bowel cancer is ruled out much earlier in the diagnostic process. We must also ensure that those at greatest risk, for example, people with a genetic condition, receive the screening they need to detect any changes early. We are in touch with many younger patients and their families, who tell us stories of terrible heartbreak and worry caused by late diagnosis. We must take action and change this, as after all, bowel cancer is treatable but early diagnosis is key.”

*Symptoms include bleeding from the bottom and/or blood in faeces, a change in your normal bowel habit of three weeks or more, extreme tiredness, unexplained weight loss or a pain or lump in the stomach.