Bowel cancer rates among men have risen by nearly 30 per cent in the last 35 years, while women have seen an increase of only six per cent, according to new figures for Great Britain from Cancer Research UK.
The new statistics are released as The Bobby Moore Fund for Cancer Research UK launches a new awareness and fundraising campaign, Make Bobby Proud, during bowel cancer awareness month (April).
The rates have climbed from 45 cases per 100,000 men in 1975-77 to 58 cases in 2008-10, an overall rise of 29 per cent. But in women cases have only increased very slightly from 35 to 37 per 100,000 in the same time period.
The largest rise in those diagnosed with the disease has been among people in their 60s and 70s, with more than 23,000 now diagnosed each year. The reasons for this rise, and the difference between men and women, are unknown.
But despite the rise in incidence among men, bowel cancer survival is improving year on year, with half of all patients living for at least 10 years after a diagnosis.
Professor Matthew Seymour, professor of gastrointestinal cancer medicine at the University of Leeds and director of the National Cancer Research Network said: “We know the risk of bowel cancer increases as we get older and, since we’re all living longer, it’s no surprise to see that the number of people getting the disease is rising.
“But when we look at these figures and take people’s age into account, we still see that the risk of bowel cancer has gone up in men in the last 35 years. It’s important to find out what’s behind the rise and what we can do about it.
“The good news is that, thanks to research, we have seen huge improvements in bowel cancer survival over the last 40 years. It’s this research that’s led to better drugs to treat the disease, improved surgical techniques, the use of more radiotherapy and the introduction of bowel screening to spot the disease earlier, when it is most effectively treated.”
Stephanie Moore MBE, founded the Bobby Moore Fund after Bobby died of bowel cancer in 1993. It has consistently funded world class bowel cancer research and awareness projects, raising and investing around £20m to date. Stephanie said: “It’s good to see that despite the rise in incidence, bowel cancer survival is improving. However, it’s vital we continue to fund research to fight this disease as these new statistics show.
“Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in the UK, after lung cancer. Finding a way to beat bowel cancer has been my goal for the past two decades and my hope is that by increasing awareness and helping to fund Cancer Research UK’s vital research, many more lives can be saved from this terrible disease in the future. This is why we’re launching Make Bobby Proud, and hope that with people’s support we can beat this disease once and for all.”
Dr Julie Sharp, senior science information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “Bowel cancer survival rates have doubled over the last 40 years and our work is at the heart of this progress.
“Our researchers have played a starring role in finding new ways to diagnose and treat bowel cancer – detecting the disease early is helping to save thousands of lives. And many of the risk factors for bowel cancer are well understood: diet, weight, physical activity, alcohol consumption, and smoking.
“The national bowel screening programme has been important in picking up cancer in its earlier stages, when treatment is more likely to be successful. England is in the process of introducing the bowel scope test – also known as Flexi-Scope – marking another step towards giving people the best possible chance of beating cancer.”
To mark bowel cancer awareness month, the ‘Make Bobby Proud’ campaign has been launched to encourage people to fundraise and raise awareness of the disease in this 20th anniversary year of the Bobby Moore Fund. Helping to spread the message about signs and symptoms, reducing your risk of developing the disease and raising funds towards life saving bowel cancer research will all help to Make Bobby Proud.
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This year sees the gradual introduction of bowel scope, also known as flexi scope, into the screening programme. This is a one-off test offered to people aged 55 that looks for signs of bowel cancer and is predicted to save 3,000 lives a year once it has been fully rolled out.