4 May 2022

‘Just’ how well did last year’s NHS national advertising campaign do in raising public awareness of bowel cancer?

The answer is more work is needed to educate the public about common symptoms of bowel cancer and persuade them to discuss these with their GPs.

National charity Bowel Research UK questioned the public about last year’s NHS ‘Just’ advertising campaign that highlighted symptoms of the four most common cancers (Bowel, Breast, Lung and Prostate) and encouraged them to see a GP if they had any.

The charity’s survey of 2000 adults in England and Wales, conducted by market researchers OnePoll, found that over four in ten (44%) of respondents did not remember the TV, print and social media advertising campaign that ran from last September 2021 into the new year 2022.

Moreover, nearly six in ten (58%) respondents said that despite the ‘Just’ advertising campaign they still did not personally discuss their potential cancer symptoms with their GP.

When asked why they hadn’t and wouldn’t discuss their symptoms with a GP, almost two in ten (19%) said lack of time or easy access had prevented them.

Nearly two in ten (18%) confessed to fear of their symptoms being confirmed as bowel cancer and therefore they preferred not to find out.

Fourteen percent said they would be deterred or had been deterred from talking to their GP because of fear of cancer treatment or needing surgery, and 14% admitted to fear of needing a colonoscopy or a colostomy bag or stoma.

Seventeen per cent of respondents admitted they were embarrassed to discuss their bowel habits.

For those that did not return the test, nearly two in ten (18%) confessed that they were going to complete it but found they didn’t get round to it, while 14% said they were put off having to handle their own poo. Sixteen per cent said they found the test kit too fiddly and couldn’t figure out how to use it.

Bowel Research UK’s survey also sought to understand more about the public’s awareness of common bowel cancer symptoms.  Over seven in 10 (72%) of the people surveyed correctly identified blood in poo as a potential bowel cancer symptom, over six in ten (64%) correctly identified sustained changes to normal bowel habits and over six in 10 (61%) abdominal pain.  Over half (56%) were also correct in identifying loss of appetite and weight loss as potential symptoms of bowel cancer.

Nearly two in ten (19%) thought the weight gain was a potential symptom of bowel cancer, while 15% falsely identified allergic reactions to spicy food as a symptom.

Lynn Dunne, Interim CEO of Bowel Research UK, said:

“It’s clear from our survey that there is an ongoing need to educate people about bowel cancer which is why Bowel Cancer Awareness Month is so important and necessary, especially when there are still around 16,000 people in the UK dying yearly from a disease that, if caught early, can be completely cured and be much more easily treated.

“We would also love to get to the stage where all the most common symptoms for bowel cancer are correctly identified by the public. That said, we were very pleased to see that blood in poo and changes to normal bowel habits are potential symptoms that are being well recognised.”

Dr Lesley Booth, Director of Research and Patient & Public Involvement at Bowel Research UK, added:

“There is a lot that the public can do when it comes to preventing bowel cancer. As well as early detection of the disease, maintaining a healthy weight, keeping physically active, eating a balanced diet and not drinking more than the recommended weekly units of alcohol are all sensible preventative measures.”