The Taylor&Emmet Blog

Bowel cancer – The critical role of the GP in securing an early diagnosis

Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in the UK with approximately 34,000 people being diagnosed in England every year and about 13,200 people dying from it. www.nhs.uk/be-clear-on-cancer/bowel-cancer/about

As with most cancers, the earlier the diagnosis the better the chances of survival. In the case of bowel cancer, the statistics show that over 90% of people who are diagnosed at an early stage live for 5 years or more. Generally, early stage bowel cancer is categorised as Stage 1 bowel cancer which means the tumour is contained to the inner lining of the bowel/muscle wall, and has not spread to the lymph nodes. In stark contrast, only around 7% of those diagnosed at the latest stage of the disease live for 5 years or more. Advanced bowel cancer is generally categorised at being at Stage 4 where the cancer may have spread other parts of the body via the lymph nodes or in the bloodstream. www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/type/bowel-cancer/treatment

Unfortunately, only around 9% of people are diagnosed at an early stage. This type of cancer is more prevalent in the older generation although you can get it at any age.

In response to these worrying statistics, there have been numerous government campaigns over the last few years to increase awareness of the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer.

The main symptoms to look out for are:-

1. A change in bowel habit such as looser stools or diarrhoea.
2. A lump on your stomach that does not go away.
3. Bleeding from your bottom with no obvious reason or blood in your faeces.
4. Feeling tired.
5. Pain in your stomach.
6. Weight loss not linked to dieting.

If you suffer from any of these symptoms for 3 weeks or more, it is very important to go and see your GP straight away. Depending on your age and the length of the symptoms, your GP may refer you for further investigations to check for bowel cancer. Competent GPs will always follow professional guidance rules for referrals which can be found in The Oxford Handbook of General Practice and NICE Guidelines (NICE Referral Guidelines for suspected cancer; quick reference guide CG27. London NICE 2015).

www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/type/bowel-cancer/treatment

Generally, the earlier bowel cancer is treated, the better the prognosis.

Sadly, I have been involved in several cases recently for people whose symptoms have not been acted upon by their GP Practice at an early stage. The actions of the GPs or Nurse Practitioners in these cases were proved to be negligent in failing to identify and act on the symptoms of early onset bowel cancer.

One particular client, who sadly died before the claim was settled, attended his GP for several years before diagnosis of his bowel cancer. He had symptoms of rectal bleeding, weight loss and tiredness caused by anaemia (which was identified in blood tests). His GP mistakenly diagnosed the gentleman as suffering with piles. The GP failed to refer him quickly enough for investigations which would have saved his life. By the time the cancer was discovered, it was too late.

If you suspect that you or one of your family or friends may have suffered from a missed or delayed diagnosis of bowel cancer, please feel free contact me for an informal chat.

Paul Fouad

Paul Fouad is a partner in the clinical negligence department. Paul is a member of the Law Society’s specialist clinical negligence Accreditation Panel. For more information on this topic email paul.fouad@tayloremmet.co.uk or call her on 0114 218 4105.

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