Beating bowel cancer together

Working together to ensure the greatest impact

This Bowel Cancer Awareness Month we’re shining a light on the varied and many people that are affected by the disease. Every 15 minutes in the UK, somebody is diagnosed with bowel cancer. But it doesn’t just impact the person diagnosed. It affects millions of people across the UK, from families and friends, to doctors and nurses and scientists and researchers. It’s only by coming together we can create a future where nobody dies of the disease.

Bowel cancer is the UK’s second biggest cancer killer, with over 16,000 people dying from it each year. Yet the disease is both treatable and curable, especially when it is diagnosed at the earliest stage. That’s why we campaign to improve earlier diagnosis and access to the best treatment and care for everyone affected by bowel cancer.

To have the greatest impact, we’re working together with many organisations across the bowel cancer community. This includes working closely with the Royal College of Pathologists (RCPath) who play a vital role in the early diagnosis of bowel cancer.

The role of pathologists

Pathologists play a crucial role in the diagnosis and management of bowel cancer, both in overseeing testing and providing support to patients.  If you have ever had a blood test or had a tissue sample taken, a pathologist will have been involved in your care. They played a key role in the development of the improved bowel cancer screening test, the faecal immunochemical test (FIT) and continue to lead on research into new and innovative cancer treatments.

Working with RCPath

We have worked alongside RCPath to address challenges facing people affected by bowel cancer for many years. In 2016, we highlighted the wide variation in Lynch syndrome testing in hospitals, despite RCPath guidance stating tests to help identify people with the condition should be carried out on everyone diagnosed with bowel cancer under the age of 50 at the time of diagnosis. Together we encouraged a more consistent approach to testing for this genetic condition that can increase the lifetime risk of bowel cancer to up to 80%.

A current priority for the charity is addressing staff shortages in NHS cancer diagnostic services, as part of our #CapacityCrisis campaign. We share a common goal with RCPath of ensuring pathology services have the capacity they need to provide the best treatment and care to patients. Staff shortages in pathology services must be urgently addressed to safeguard the major and vital contribution they make, especially in terms of meeting the ambitions of the NHS Long Term Plan. Particularly with regards to bowel cancer, this means enabling the timely and sustainable introduction of FIT into the Bowel Cancer Screening Programme and lowering the screening age to 50.

recent report by the RCPath found that only 3% of NHS histopathology departments (who are responsible for diagnosing disease) have enough staff to meet clinical demand. They also highlight that demand for pathology services has been increasing year-on-year. But this has not been matched with an increase in staffing levels and services are struggling to recruit to vacant posts as it can take up to 15 years to train a pathologist. For patients, staff shortages can mean worrying delays in cancer diagnosis and treatment. We’re both raising these issues with decision makers, including parliamentarians and policy makers at the Department of Health and Social Care.

We are grateful to have the support of past and current RCPath presidents in driving forward our agenda for change. Our first ever Scientific Advisory Board Chair, Dr Suzy Lishman CBE is the former President of the Royal College of Pathologists and continues to work as a Consultant Histopathologist. The current President, Professor Jo Martin, has lent her personal support to our Capacity Crisis campaign; expressing her concern about the current pathology capacity issues.

Working together behind the scenes and with our public campaigning is vital as staff shortages aren’t only important to us but to many people working in health that have an important role in the diagnosis of and management of cancers.

Wider ambitions of the NHS Long Term Plan 

The NHS Long Term Plan was ambitious and we support its drive, but without fully funded commitments to address workforce shortages, it’ll be difficult to see these ambitions come to light. The interim recommendations of the Workforce Implementation Plan is expected to be published by the end of April 2019. We hope to see specific actions to address issues in cancer diagnostic services, such as pathology and endoscopy, to ensure patients have access to the best treatment and care.  

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