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Missed Opportunities in Diagnosing Bowel Cancer

View profile for Saira Walji
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Bowel cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in the United Kingdom. Cancer Research UK estimate that around 40,000 individuals are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year.

According to statistics published by Cancer Research, bowel cancer is one of the top five leading causes of cancer deaths in the United Kingdom.

As with many types of cancer, the earlier bowel cancer is diagnosed and treated the greater the chances of survival. In the United Kingdom, one of the methods to diagnose bowel cancer at an early stage is through screening which can help to detect the disease early, sometimes even before the onset of symptoms.

However, the threshold to be met in England by individuals in order to be referred for further investigations is higher than in Scotland. In England, individuals with 120 micrograms of haemoglobin per gram of faeces are referred for further investigations. In contrast, in Scotland individuals who are screened and found to have 80 micrograms of haemoglobin per gram of faeces are referred for a colonoscopy to determine if they have bowel cancer.

Furthermore, Cancer Research UK said that a lack of radiographers and radiologists result in hospitals not being able to keep up with the growing number of individuals being referred for tests for suspected bowel cancer. Around 1 in 10 such posts within the NHS are vacant.

Earlier this year, the Guardian reported that the NHS fails to detect approximately 1,100 cases of bowel cancer a year in England because diagnostic services are short-staffed.

Dr Wilde, Director of Research and External Affairs at Bowel Cancer UK, said: “We know that the biggest constraint to increasing the sensitivity of England’s bowel cancer screening test is a lack of NHS workforce. Bowel cancer is the UK’s second biggest cancer killer but it doesn’t need to be: it is treatable and curable especially if diagnosed early.”

As a result of COVID-19, bowel cancer screening has been paused throughout the United Kingdom.  The cancellation of all but emergency endoscopy services impacts those at high risk of developing bowel cancer.  The 2019 National Bowel Cancer Audit identified that 1 in 10 individuals are diagnosed with bowel cancer through national screening programmes every year. Statistics in April 2020 show that more than 6,000 people had a positive bowel cancer screening result and are awaiting a diagnostic appointment for further tests. It is estimated that up to 10% of those tested will be found to have bowel cancer, essentially meaning that up to 600 people in England are currently living with undiagnosed bowel cancer.

Variations of Bowel Cancer

There are various types of bowel cancer and cancer in associated areas:

  • Rectal cancer – begins in the large bowel.
  • Anal cancer – starts in the anus which is located at the end of the bowel. It is found to be more common in men than women.
  • Adenocarcinomas – starts in the cells that line the bowel and manifest in the duodenum.
  • Melanoma - starts in cells in the skin called melanocytes.
  • Lymphomas – grow in the jejunum of the bowel.
  • Squamous cell cancer – this affects the lining of the anal canal.
  • Adenocarcinoma – this is a type of cancer that starts in mucus-producing glandular cells of your body. Glandular cells are located in the anus and assist in making mucus which moves the stools through the anus.
  • Sarcoma – these cells grow mainly in the ileum and present in different forms. The most common is the leiomyosarcoma, rarer types include gastrointestinal stromal tumours.
  • Neuroendocrine – this type of cancer develops in hormonal cells in the appendix or ileum.

Like with many types of cancer, the failure to diagnose and treat bowel cancer timely can have devastating consequences. Our specialist medical negligence solicitors have a wealth of experience in handling claims on behalf of victims who have suffered a delay in diagnosis of bowel cancer.

If you or someone you care about has been affected by a delay in diagnosis of cancer or any other medical condition, feel free to contact us to speak to a medical negligence solicitor for a free no obligation discussion on 0121 355 0011.