April 11, 2017

500 lives can be saved every year if Irish people make lifestyle changes and avail of bowel cancer screening

As many as 500 fewer people would die from bowel cancer in Ireland each year if the public took action by making changes to their lifestyle and availing of free bowel cancer screening services available to them, a leading bowel cancer expert will tell the public tonight (11/04).

The Irish Cancer Society event ‘Decoding Cancer: How to Stack the Odds Against Bowel Cancer and Save Lives’ will see Professor Robert Steele discuss the leading causes of bowel cancer and how it can be prevented and detected earlier, effectively halving the number of people in Ireland who die from the disease each year. He will be joined by Deirdre Ryan, Screening Promotion Manager at the National Screening Service, who will explain the national bowel cancer screening programme, BowelScreen.

The talk takes place at 6.30pm in the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute, 152 - 160 Pearse Street, Dublin 2 (next to Pearse Street DART Station).

Click here to register to attend this free event

This year, more than 2,500 people in Ireland will be told they have bowel cancer. If caught early, 19 out of every 20 patients will survive the disease. However, late detection and diagnosis means that bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer deaths, with 1,000 people in Ireland dying from the disease annually.

A key weapon in the fight against bowel cancer is BowelScreen, which is offered to men and women aged 60-69 every two years. Despite BowelScreen being a simple and free home test to detect bowel cancer or early signs of the disease, just 4 in 10 eligible people avail of the biennial screen.

According to research to be outlined by Prof Steele in Dublin tonight, if all eligible persons availed of BowelScreen, bowel cancer deaths would be reduced by 30% compared to no screening at all.

If the screening is carried out alongside positive lifestyle choices, such as not smoking, looking after your weight, cutting your alcohol intake and being physically active, the risk of death by bowel cancer can be halved, meaning as many as 500 lives being saved in Ireland every year.

Prof Steele (pictured) said: “The advent of screening for bowel cancer has been a significant step in the fight against this terrible disease. However, a national screening service is of no effect if the public does not avail of the test.

“Because of everything we now know about the causes of bowel cancer, everyone has the opportunity to proactively reduce their risk of contracting and potentially dying from the illness. Tobacco, alcohol, poor diet and lack of exercise are all causes of many bowel cancers. By informing the public about what they can do to reduce their bowel cancer risk, I hope to empower them with the knowledge they can then use to make better lifestyle choices.”

Tom O’Brien, BowelScreen Programme Manager, said: “The fact that just 4 in 10 eligible people avail of BowelScreen is a concern, which is why it is important that we get the message out that early detection of bowel cancer is the best defence against the disease. In the first round completed in 2015, BowelScreen detected 521 cancers, 3 in 4 of which were at an early stage, making it a truly lifesaving programme.”

“BowelScreen can also detect pre-cancerous growths meaning that, once removed, these can prevent bowel cancer from developing in the first place. This means that the more eligible people take up the screening service, the fewer who will have to go through the fear and worry that comes hand in hand with a cancer diagnosis.”

April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, and this month the Irish Cancer Society has been campaigning to make people aware of the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer, and encouraging all those eligible to avail of BowelScreen.

This year the Society has also developed an easy-to-use online Bowel Health Checker which is a short quiz designed to inform people about staying healthy, being aware of their bowel health and informing people about the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer. Once completed, there is a handy printout to take to your doctor should it be needed.

Tonight’s event is being held as part of the Irish Cancer Society’s ‘Decoding Cancer’ series of public talks, which aims to dispel some of the myths around cancer and explore the many advances being made through research in prevention, early detection, treatment, and survivors’ quality of life.

‘Decoding Cancer – How to Stack the Odds against Bowel Cancer and Save Lives’ is free but registration is required. To register and for more information please see or search 'Decoding Cancer' on Eventbrite.

To learn more about bowel cancer, visit our Bowel Cancer Awareness section.