Bowel cancer second biggest cancer killer in Northern Ireland

A man who survived bowel cancer has urged people to get symptoms checked out, rather than "dying of embarrassment".

Tim Kerr (65) was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer in 2012.

He was 54 at the time and had a busy job at Ulster University. The father of three had ignored symptoms of the disease for several months including blood in his stools and a change in bowel habits.

He is urging people here to educate themselves about the illness after it emerged more than a third of people in Northern Ireland do not know a single symptom of this type of cancer.

"Don't die of embarrassment," he told UTV Live.

"I mean, it was one of the reasons I think I probably chose not to go straightaway. You know, I'm going to walk into surgery door here and tell them what's going on downstairs. And that was enough to make me hesitant."

Mr Kerr who lives in Holywood thinks the stigma still exists around talking about bowel movements, even more so here in Northern Ireland and among men.

"I think in Northern Ireland there's a tendency to bury our heads in the sand, to soldier on and not confront our fears.

"It certainly, I think, was a factor in my deciding whether or not to how quickly to act upon it," he added.

As well as that reluctance to come forward a survey by charity Bowel Cancer UK reveals that the vast majority of people Northern Ireland are not aware that bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer here and a third do not know any symptoms of the disease.

They include:

  • Blood in your stool

  • Obvious change in bile habits,

  • Weight loss,

  • Extreme tiredness,

  • And a lump under pain in your tummy.

Bowel Cancer UK says the campaign by their patron, the late Dame Deborah James - otherwise known as 'bowel babe', has led to increased awareness.

Gerard McMahon from the charity however says there's still at long way to go to reduce the stigma around discussing symptoms and seeking help.

"Last year, when she announced that she was going to palliative care at home and in cycling, when she passed away with that notice, there was quite a large spike in interest in her pages that are in symptoms.

"And so that may be one of the contributory factors to that and slightly increasing awareness that we've seen over the last year. And so we want to build on that," he added.

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