Bowel cancer is one of the UK’s most common cancer killers and 40,000 people are diagnosed with this illness every year. This is a worrying statistic. But what if I told you that early treatment can make all the difference and that there was a test you could do in your own home, at your own convenience, which can detect bowel cancer at an early stage even before you have any symptoms. Would you be interested?
80% of people who develop bowel cancer are aged 60 and over. And here in Leeds, thanks to an NHS bowel cancer screening test, people in that age group have the opportunity to take a test at their own convenience in their own home. Anyone aged 60, who is registered with a GP, will automatically receive a letter telling them about the scheme and then a kit is posted to them so they can take the test. The samples are then simply posted back for testing and results sent out a few weeks later.
I had a chat with Mike Sells, 63, Leeds photographer and artist about why he took the test and what happened.
Before you received the letter inviting you take part in the screening, did you know about the scheme?
I was vaguely aware. I think I had read something about it.
So, when the screening letter finally arrived, what did you think?
I thought Oh my God, welcome to being 60. Is this how things are going to be now? The body is an amazing machine but as you get older stuff can go wrong and if there’s a way to check if things are working that sounds useful. The bowel screening test is one way of being reassured that everything is OK in that area – one less thing to worry about by getting it checked out.
There are three items in the kit – a stick, a sample card, the freepost envelope and some instructions. How easy was it to use?
The kit is quite simple and really clever – although the idea of sending samples of poo through the post seemed weird. But once I’d read through the instructions it seemed reasonable enough and not at all difficult or messy.
What made you decide to take the test?
I didn’t go round worrying have I got bowel cancer so I didn’t start wondering about the implications of the test and what it could mean, good or bad, until I got the information letter. The kit came arrived a bit later so I had time to think what if I got the ” you need further investigations” how could I cope with that? I decided anyway I’d rather know, either way.
The test involves taking samples over a period of time, how difficult was it to do?
Not difficult at all, I read the instructions and it all looked OK it’s a very clever piece of kit.
How long did you have to wait for the results?
Once I’d posted off the sample I didn’t really think about it again and I only had to wait a couple of weeks.
How did you feel when you got your result?
I was a bit worried when I finally got the letter, just fingers crossed sort-of-thing. It was great to read that all seemed OK and the results said I was clear.
What would you say to encourage others to take the test?
Yes – why not? It’s really simple, you don’t have to see anyone or go anywhere – I would encourage anyone to do it, one less thing to worry about. And if there was something wrong – which is pretty unlikely – then you have a good chance of doing something about it before it’s a major problem.
It’s not just a one off test though is it? You’ll be invited to take the test again every two years until you’re 75, will you take it again?
Yes, of course, I may be OK now, but stuff changes and this test is a quick and easy way to keep an eye on things.
Thanks Mike for taking the time to chat and telling me what taking the bowel cancer screening test is really like. Debra Kerr, Communications Officer.
If you want to know more about the bowel cancer screening test you can call the free NHS helpline on 0800 707 6060 or visit www.leeds.gov.uk/bowelcancer. If you or someone you know is under 60 and worried about possible symptoms get in touch with a GP to find out what options are available.