Cancer: Physically ‘fit’ teaching assistant discovered her tumour with an ‘odd’ test

Bowel cancer: Dr Philippa Kaye lists the symptoms

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Bowel cancer is one of the major killers in the UK, being the second most common cause of cancer death. Although the main symptoms might not necessarily feel alarming, it’s important to get checked. However, in Anne’s case, there were no symptoms at all. Her bowel cancer only got picked up through a home test kit sent out by the NHS.

She said: “I had no symptoms and didn’t feel unwell, yet I was told my cancer was growing and had nearly spread. 

“I felt as fit as I have ever done so there was nothing to pinpoint or nothing that I would have picked up on.

“I can’t imagine how different my life would be if I hadn’t decided to send my kit back. 

“Yes, it’s a bit odd and embarrassing to collect your poo, but I’m proof that it saves lives.”

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In England, all adults between the ages of 60 to 74, who are registered with a GP, are automatically sent a so-called faecal immunochemical test (FIT) every two years.

Now, the screening programme is gradually expanding to include everyone aged 50 to 59 years as well. 

The test kit looks for traces of blood in your poo, which is considered to be one of the main signs of bowel cancer.

What’s more, new research funded by Cancer Research UK shares that more than 11,000 bowel cancer deaths could be prevented by simply inviting people to participate in this screening more often.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Sheffield, found that re-inviting people to participate every year until they return the home test kit was the “most cost-effective” way to increase participation.

Anne was also reluctant to do the test at first but she eventually sent it off. Few days later, she received a letter asking her to get more tests done.

She said: “By the middle of the next week, I’d had a letter back saying ‘Something wasn’t right, you need to come in for the test, unfortunately’.”

During the tests, camera found a growth which prompted doctors to book her into surgery after a planned holiday. 

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She was told that the tumour was just starting to break through the outer side of her bowel and that she was lucky she hadn’t left it any longer as the cancer would have spread. 

Anne said: “I was shocked, it wasn’t until later on that suddenly the implications of that terrible word, the word nobody wants to hear, [sunk in].”

Following an operation that removed the part of her bowel where the cancer resided and chemotherapy, Anne recovered.

She explained that even though doing the kit wasn’t a “pleasant thing to do”, it saved her life so she encourages more people to do the tests.

“It’s not painful, you don’t have to go anywhere else to do it, it’s a simple thing and it will save lives,” Anne added.

Fortunately, Anne is “as healthy” as she can be now and she even moved to Suffolk to be closer to her family.

She added: “Last year, I had my final tests to make sure that everything was okay and it came back that I have a small nodule in my lung, which they’ve kept an eye on.

“But they don’t think it’s anything so, unless they tell me, I’m not going to worry about it.”

What are the symptoms of bowel cancer?

Although Anne didn’t have any symptoms, bowel cancer is linked to these warning signs as reported by the NHS:

  • Persistent blood in your poo (happens for no obvious reason or is associated with a change in bowel habit)
  • Persistent change in your bowel habit (having to poo more and your poo may also become more runny)
  • Persistent lower abdominal (tummy) pain, bloating or discomfort (always caused by eating and may be associated with loss of appetite or significant unintentional weight loss).

The health service recommends seeing a GP if these symptoms have been persisting for three weeks or more.

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