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Raising Awareness: Bowel Cancer

Posted on 02nd May 2024 in Medical Negligence

Posted by

Simon Mansfield

Partner and Solicitor
Raising Awareness: Bowel Cancer

Bowel cancer is a serious health condition that affects millions of people around the world. It can be difficult to detect in its early stages, which is why it's crucial to seek medical attention as soon as you notice any symptoms. 

The Clinical Negligence Team has highlighted the importance of acting quickly and have provided guidance on what your GP should investigate if you suspect bowel cancer. In this article, we'll take a closer look at the symptoms of bowel cancer and what you can do to ensure early detection and treatment.

 A delay in diagnosis could mean your outcome is less favourable, and may even give rise to a negligence claim.

What are the early signs of Bowel Cancer?

Sometimes bowel cancer can be hard to spot. A lot of the symptoms can also be attributed to less serious conditions such as IBS. It may not be anything serious, but you should always see your GP if you have the following symptoms:

·      Blood in your stools or on wiping

·      Changes in your bowel habits, such as going to the toilet more frequently, or constipation, particularly if these changes are persistent

·      Abdominal pain, discomfort, or bloating, that is provoked by eating

·      Unexplained weight loss

It’s really important to see your doctor as soon as possible. It’s likely it’s not anything as serious as cancer, but it is always best to rule this out.

What should happen when I see my GP?

For some symptoms, your doctor may ask you to wait to see if they improve.

Your GP should consider asking for a faecal immunochemical test (FIT) to help them decide if further referral or investigations are needed. They should do this if you have the following symptoms:

·      You have an abdominal mass

·      Changes in bowel habits

·      Iron-deficiency anaemia

·      You are aged 40 and over with unexplained weight loss and abdominal pain

·      You are aged under 50 years old with rectal bleeding, and either abdominal pain and/or weight loss

·      You are aged 50 years and over with any of the following unexplained symptoms:

o  Rectal bleeding

o  Abdominal pain

o  Weight loss

If the FIT test results shows at least 10 micrograms of haemoglobin per 1 gram of faeces, you should receive an urgent referral to colorectal services. Even if this test is negative, you should still be given appropriate safety netting advice, and a referral should still be considered if there is a clinical indication of suspected cancer.

An urgent referral means that you should receive screening for colorectal (bowel) cancer within two weeks. 

Colorectal services should then perform either a sigmoidoscopy or a colonoscopy, looking at either the lower part, or your large bowel using a flexible tube, and/or perform scans to check for evidence of cancer.

If you satisfied the criteria set out above, were subsequently diagnosed with bowel cancer, and yet were not given a FIT test or an urgent referral as appropriate, it suggests there may have been an avoidable delay in your diagnosis. There may, therefore, potentially be a basis for a negligence claim.

How important is early screening?

More than 9 in 10 people will survive bowel cancer beyond 5 years if it’s diagnosed at the earliest stage. If it’s diagnosed at the latest stage, this falls to just 1 in 10. Later diagnosis may also have negative implications in terms of your treatment, including more extensive surgery, and chemotherapy afterwards. If the cancer is stage 4, you may also need radiotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted cancer drugs.

What do I do if I think there was a delay in my diagnosis?

If your GP did not give you an urgent referral, despite your symptoms warranting it, this could have resulted in a delay in your diagnosis.

This doesn’t always mean you will have a legal claim. Any delay must have been negligent in your individual circumstances. This must also have caused you further suffering in some way, such as the cancer/prognosis and/or treatment then getting worse as a result.

If you’re unsure, a member of our clinical negligence team would be happy to speak to you, to see if your circumstances warrant further investigation.

We act exclusively for claimants, and subject to risk, we can act on a no-win no-fee basis.

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