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Government urged to stop failing bowel cancer

Bowel cancer patients in the UK are being failed by the government, according to a new report by leading charity Beating Bowel Cancer.

In the Bowel Cancer 2012 Challenge, published today at the start of the charity's Loud Tie Week, Beating Bowel Cancer outlines its five-year vision for bowel cancer patients. It highlights current problems and calls for improved services and outcomes for bowel cancer patients in four key areas:

  • A coordinated national awareness and education campaign to raise the profile of bowel cancer.
  • Faster introduction and improved uptake of the current NHS bowel cancer screening programme in England, and extension of the programme to include men and women aged 50+.
  • Availability of clinically effective treatments at the right time in the right setting for all patients.
  • Recognition of the value of prolonged, quality life.

Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in the UK but the experience of bowel cancer patients has lagged behind that of other cancer patients. Bowel cancer patients receive less information than other cancer patients and a large number report feeling that their condition has worsened while waiting to see a specialist.

Hilary Whittaker, Beating Bowel Cancer's chief executive, said: "Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in the UK, but research shows that the experience of bowel cancer patients is significantly less positive than that of other cancer patients - we are calling on the government to address this issue urgently.

"Some progress has been made, but too many people are still dying from a disease that can be treated successfully in many cases if caught early enough. We need to fight the stigma around this disease and make people aware of the early warning signs."

Polling shows that more than half the general public is not aware of any symptoms of bowel cancer, yet 90% of people diagnosed could be saved by early detection and effective treatment. And the rollout of the national bowel cancer screening programme in England has been dogged by the problem of low uptake. The uptake in the first round pilot was 58.5%, falling to 51.9% uptake in the second round pilot.

On top of that, people in the UK are being denied life-saving drugs that are on offer everywhere else in the EU. NICE's recent decision to turn down Avastin (bevacizumab) and Erbitux (cetuximab) for advanced bowel cancer means that cost considerations are stopping patients from receiving the best treatment. The Challenge calls for a recognition of the value of prolonged life as well as simply focusing on treatments that cure. Bowel cancer patients should not be denied access to effective drugs simply on grounds of cost.

The "Bowel Cancer 2012 Challenge" is available to download at