Beating bowel cancer together

Our new report launches exploring the major challenges facing bowel cancer services

Wednesday 3 November 2021

We've launched a new report ‘Improving Bowel Cancer Outcomes: A Roadmap for Change', which sets out the challenges facing bowel cancer services in the UK.

The report was launched at our Parliamentary roundtable meeting held yesterday (Tuesday 2 November). The event was attended by leading clinicians and Parliamentarians with an interest in bowel cancer and chaired by former NHS Cancer Director and lead author of NHS England's recent review of cancer diagnostic capacity, Professor Sir Mike Richards.

The report shines a light on the major challenges facing bowel cancer services in the UK and the impact this is having on patients, before setting out a roadmap for change, including several recommendations that we believe need urgent implementation to address the challenges identified in the report.

The report highlights that in the past 40 years, as a result of a focus on early diagnosis and advances in, and adoption of, life-saving cancer research, bowel cancer survival has more than doubled. Despite these significant improvements, the UK still lags behind comparable countries with similar healthcare systems and levels of wealth.

The biggest reason for this is because the UK is poorer at diagnosing bowel cancer at an early, more treatable stage than the best performing countries. In 2018, only 39.6% of bowel cancers were diagnosed at stage 1 and stage 2 in England, with 25.3% of bowel cancer cases diagnosed at stage 4. Nearly everyone survives bowel cancer if diagnosed at the earliest stage however this drops significantly as the disease develops. Improvements in early diagnosis are key to saving more lives.

This was the reality of bowel cancer before COVID-19, but the pandemic has had a profound impact on healthcare services and will continue to be felt for months and perhaps years to come.

Genevieve Edwards, Chief Executive of Bowel Cancer UK says: "Bowel cancer services have faced significant challenges for some time, particularly in diagnosing patients at an early stage. This has had a profound impact on patients and overall bowel cancer survival across the UK, with the disease remaining the second biggest cancer killer in the UK, despite it being treatable and curable, especially if diagnosed early.

"Whilst the true impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on bowel cancer is yet to be fully understood, what is clear is that bowel cancer services have been hit particularly hard, placing additional pressure on a system that was already under significant strain.

"If the Government still wants to hit its target of diagnosing 75% of cancers at an early stage by 2028, it is imperative that we do not return to how services were being delivered prior to the pandemic. Crucially, the Government must ensure that the short-term impact of the pandemic does not have a long-term impact on bowel cancer outcomes and survival by addressing barriers to early diagnosis and access to treatments.

"Our report launched today makes a number of important recommendations that we believe, if taken forward, would help to ensure that the recovery from the pandemic works for bowel cancer patients. We look forward to working together with Parliamentarians, policy makers and the wider bowel cancer community to see the report’s recommendations implemented as a matter of urgency."

Former NHS Cancer Director and author of the Report of the Independent Review of Diagnostic Services for NHS England, Professor Sir Mike Richards said: "I welcome this report from Bowel Cancer UK. It recognises the need for better public awareness and better access to diagnostics to improve outcomes for patients. Recovery of diagnostic services from the impact of the pandemic is a first priority, but this must be followed by full rollout of bowel screening and other service improvements as quickly as possible."

Click on the video above for a 90 second summary of our recommendations for what needs to change so that more people can survive bowel cancer in the future.

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