Practice Matters Magazine

The magazine for Healthcare Professionals from The Wellington Hospital


Articles written by professionals from The Wellington Hospital for Healthcare Professionals.

Be Clear on Cancer

Jonathan Wilson talks about the national 'Be Clear on Cancer' campaign; its aim to increase public awareness, and its likely impact on your practice.

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In the UK, colon cancer remains the most common cause of non-smoking related cancer death. Approximately 40,000 new cases of colon cancer are diagnosed each year in England and Wales. According to Cancer Research UK, 1 in 14 men and 1 in 19 women will develop colorectal cancer within their lifetime. 

Earlier detection of the disease leads to improved survival, with over 90% of patients, with the earliest stage of colon cancer, surviving five years or more from the time of diagnosis. However, despite significant advances in surgical technique, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, the UK lags behind the European average survival rates, with just over 50% of patients surviving five years. 

The main reason is thought to be late patient presentation and therefore delay in diagnosis and treatment. Patients may be either unaware of the symptoms of bowel cancer or are reluctant to see their GP through embarrassment, busy lifestyles, or not wanting to waste their doctors’ time. 

30th January 2012 marked the start of the Department of Health ‘Be Clear on Cancer' campaign: raising public awareness of the symptoms of bowel cancer and urging patients to see their GPs promptly. It will run until the end of March on national television, radio, and in the press. 

The campaign is designed to:

  • Give advice about bowel cancer symptoms
  • Provide a clear ‘call to action’ to see their GP
  • Give a reassuring message that earlier diagnosis improves the chances of successful treatment. 

The campaign will be aimed at people over the age of 55 from lower socio-economic backgrounds. The message will be that, if a person has had ‘loose stools or blood in their stools for more than three weeks’, then they should go to see their GP. You will be aware that this ‘three week’ timescale is shorter than the NICE guidelines ‘six week’ recommendation, which underpins our current urgent referral criteria for suspected bowel cancer, with the deliberate intention of increasing the number of patients seeing their GPs with potentially serious symptoms and signs. In pilot campaigns last year in East and South West England, this led to a 50% increase in GP attendance in those over the age of 50 with the symptoms outlined in the campaign. In real terms, experts predict that this will equate to one extra patient per week attending the GP surgery. 

Not all of these extra patients will require urgent two week wait referrals, and GPs will of course exercise their clinical judgment in this regard, utilising alternative routine clinic appointments and ‘straight-to-test’ options where appropriate. 

There will clearly be a knock-on effect on secondary care facilities, mainly endoscopy. It is also important to emphasise to the patients that the vast majority will have benign explanations behind their symptoms, such as diverticular disease, hemorrhoids, and irritable bowel syndrome. However, complete reassurance cannot be provided without medical consultation and investigation where appropriate.


Cancer, colon, Colorectal, Endoscopy, Laparoscopic Surgery, Mr Jonathan Wilson, Bowel Cancer

Bowel Cancer: Be Clear On The Campaign
February 2012
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Mr Jonathan Wilson

Consultant Laparoscopic Colorectal Surgeon

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