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  • Writer's pictureLove Ballymena

PHA highlights symptoms awareness as data reveals 1 in 20 people impacted by bowel cancer

Woman with hands on painful tummy.

With about 1 in 20 people developing bowel cancer in their lifetime, the Public Health Agency (PHA) is highlighting how being alert to the possible symptoms and taking part in screening could help save your life.


April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month and the PHA said that bowel cancer is the third most common cancer identified in both men and women and is also the second most common cause of cancer death among people in Northern Ireland.


Bowel cancer screening is offered to everyone in Northern Ireland aged 60–74 and is aimed at people who do not have any symptoms. Those eligible will receive a screening test in the post and completed kits can be returned for free. The programme identifies who should be offered screening through the GP system, so everyone is encouraged to ensure that their details are up to date with their GP practice.


Dr Christine McKee, Public Health Consultant at the PHA, said:

“Bowel cancer is more common in older people, so screening in this age group can save lives by picking up if a person may have bowel cancer early, even when there aren’t any symptoms. That’s why we would urge all those who receive a screening test kit to read the information that comes with it, and consider completing and returning the kit.


“The screening test looks for tiny amounts of blood within a small sample of a bowel motion, which would usually not be visible to people. If this is identified through the screening test, further tests are recommended to investigate this. The screening test does not tell you if you have bowel cancer, but can help identify people who don’t have any symptoms and may need further tests.”


“It is also extremely important for us all, no matter what age, to be aware of the possible signs and symptoms of bowel cancer. And just as important, if you recognise any symptoms, even if you’ve recently taken part in bowel screening, you should contact your GP.”


Possible symptoms of bowel cancer can include:


  • blood in your poo;

  • looser poo;

  • pooing more often and/or constipation;

  • a pain or lump in your tummy;

  • feeling more tired than usual for some time;

  • losing weight for no obvious reason.


Dr McKee continued: “If anyone experiences any of these symptoms for three weeks or more, it’s important that they make an appointment with their GP. There can sometimes be embarrassment when talking about these issues but it is always best to get any of these symptoms checked out with your doctor. It may turn out to be nothing of concern, but if it is something more serious, detecting it as early as possible can give any treatment you may need the best chance of success.”

Graphic showing ways to reduce risk of bowel cancer.


There are also steps everyone can take to reduce their risk of bowel cancer:


  • Eat a healthy diet. Make sure you get at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day, and include wholegrains, beans and pulses for fibre; Limit the amount of red meat you eat, especially processed red meat.

  • Be active. Moving more and sitting less can reduce your risk of developing serious illness. Aim for at least two and a half hours of moderate activity each week;

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Avoid gaining excess weight and try losing weight if overweight or obese;

  • Drink less alcohol. To keep risks to a lower level, don’t drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week. Find out more about alcohol units at

  • Stop smoking. Your local free Stop Smoking Service can help – find your nearest service at


For more information about cancer signs and symptoms visit    


For more information about bowel cancer screening visit


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