How a little stick saved my life

13/10/22 . Blog

The poo test doesn't sound enticing but guest blogger Simon Clarke reckons it saved his life.

Are you aware of NHS bowel cancer screening? I’d never heard of it until my first test arrived in the post shortly after my 60th birthday.

Like a lot of men, I have something of a sense of invincibility. I’ve had the good luck to steer clear of doctors through most of my life, and my attitude tends to be it won’t be me that gets ill.

Still, as this test had been sent to me by the NHS, I got on and did it. It’s not the most pleasant thing but it really isn’t difficult and doesn’t take long.

You smear a little bit of your poo on a sample stick, seal it up, send it off and a couple of weeks later you get a letter back. The tests are posted to you at home every two years until you’re 74.  I gather the plan is for that to be lowered to 50 by 2025.*

Traces of blood

When I sent off the NHS bowel cancer screening test sent to me shortly after my 66th birthday, I fully expected, having done it before, to get a letter saying 'all’s well' as previously. Instead they found traces of blood in my sample. Although that’s unusual - only two out of 100 people who do their bowel cancer screening get the “let’s have another look” letter – I still had no concerns. Just nine out of 100 people invited for further tests turn out to have cancer.

I went along to the hospital for a colonoscopy, when the surgeon uses a thin tube with a camera to have a look inside your bowel and see if anything’s wrong. She found and removed a couple of polyps, little growths inside the bowel, and sent them off for testing.

It was a complete surprise to me, and frankly rather scary, when one of the polyps turned out to be cancerous.

No symptoms at all

I had no symptoms at all. Had I not been screened, that cancer would be growing inside me. It wouldn’t have been discovered until the symptoms were bad enough to make me go to the doctor when it might already have spread around my body. Instead, it was removed before spreading at all and, since having surgery in January 2022 to remove a little section of my bowel, I have needed no other treatment. I am really fortunate.

Men are less good at returning their NHS bowel cancer screening kits than women. That probably doesn’t come as a surprise.

My advice is: use the bowel cancer screening kit when you’re sent it because, if it catches something early like it did with me, it could save your life.

* Currently, everyone in England is now getting a bowel cancer screening test at 56 (assuming they are registered with a GP who has their correct address).

Simon Clarke


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