Don’t ignore the symptoms- know the signs of bowel cancer

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April is bowel cancer awareness month. A man shares his story of treatment and celebrating five years in remission.

Every 30 minutes someone dies from bowel cancer, making it the UK’s second biggest cancer killer.

Charity Bowel Cancer UK is encouraging people living across the country to know what to look out for and to not be embarrassed about seeing your GP.

It is very treatable but the earlier it is diagnosed the easier it is to treat.

John Anton, from Hove, was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2010.

He said: “I have had a history of Colitis since I was about 31 years old.

“When I was just 50 I had a very nasty flare up, which was treated in the normal way.

“After a month or so with no improvement, despite the usually helpful ‘mega dosage’ of prednisolone steroid (40mg per day), I went back to see Dr Holdstock, who booked me in for an emergency endoscopy, which he said he would perform himself.

“When I came to instead of a kind nurse leaning over me it was Dr Holdstock, with a fairly serious look on his face.

“I asked him what he’d found, and he started to mention nothing absolutely definite, more tests needed, etc, but I said ‘we know each other well enough for your best guess, and he said ‘bowel cancer’.”

Because of his history with Colitis John underwent a colectomy, a fairly large operation which involves removing the entire colon, and forming an ileostomy, or stoma, which collects waste into a drainable stoma bag.

At a follow up meeting he was told that three out of 25 lymph nodes showed the cancer had spread and that he was ‘stage 3’.

He was put on chemotherapy for three months, and at a six month scan he was told all was well.

But 18 months later a CT scan showed a ‘cricket ball’ sized metastatic tumour in his liver.

“I was now stage 4 – there is no stage 5,” he said.

“I was told I needed immediate chemo, via a portacath (a small chamber or reservoir that sits under your skin at the end of your central line. The other end of the line sits in a large vein close to your heart) – but the NHS waiting list was about six to eight weeks, so I was asked if my company provided BUPA.

“It did, and so I had my portacath fitted within the week, a new, totally different type of chemo regime, and more scans to see if I was one of the lucky Liver Mets patients whose tumour was ‘operable’.”

The scans revealed he was suitable for surgery so after his chemo the tumour was removed.

After more chemo sessions John went for three monthly scans, but a year later another tumour was found in the liver.

“This time it was in a place that was very tricky to operate on. I was lucky enough to still be covered by BUPA.

“My oncologist suggested my best chance was RFA (radiofrequency ablation), which uses heat to destroy cancer cells, combined with Cyberknife treatment.

“It is one of the most advanced forms of radiosurgery — a painless, non-invasive treatment that delivers high doses of precisely targeted radiation to destroy tumors within the body using a robotic arm to deliver highly focused beams of radiation.

“BUPA approved both treatments and so over the next few months I undertook these procedures.

“Again, these were successful in ‘killing’ the tumour. By now it was the autumn of 2013 and so, over the next six years, up until December 2018, I have been having regular scans – initially every three months, then every six months, then every year.”

John has been in remission for five years.

“The good news is that getting NED (no evidence of disease) results back, consistently over the last five years has allowed me more and more hope of a successful long term outcome,.

“I quickly got back to my running, cycling, sea swimming, going on holidays, going out to restaurants, the movies, concerts, and that’s how I’m now living my life.”

Many people ignore the symptoms as they are embarassed to see their GP.

John said: “If you have any fears about any symptoms of bowel cancer or any cancer be persistent and see your GP.”