Plan launched to eradicate all deaths from bowel cancer in Wales

Rachel Reed was diagnosed with Stage 4 bowel cancer in November 2018.

A new plan has been launched which aims to eradicate all deaths from bowel cancer in Wales.

It's hoped the proposal can eventually reduce the current 900 deaths a year to zero.

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer and the second biggest cancerkiller in Wales.

Every year more than 2,200 people across Wales are diagnosed with the disease and over 900 people die.

Rachel Reed from Pontypridd was 33 when she was diagnosed with Stage 4 bowel cancer in November 2018.

Rachel said she was in "disbelief" when she found out she had bowel cancer.

At the time, she had reactions to food such as wheat and dairy, stomach cramps, urgency to go to the toilet and tiredness but she put it down to day-to-day life and being busy.

She went to the GP about her symptoms but because of her young age, cancer wasn't on the radar for either herself nor her GP.

After seeing her dermatologist about a biological medication she was taking, she was then referred to get a colonoscopy to check the health of her bowel - which resulted in them finding a tumour.

“I was shocked. I just was in disbelief" Rachel said.

"Are you sure that I've got this? I've seen it on the screen as the consultant showed me. And I was just in utter shock because I just didn't think that could happen to somebody young, fit and healthy”.

She continued: “Two weeks after my diagnosis I was in surgery, so it was a lot to get your head around quickly and post-surgery.

"I had a lot of complex operations because the bowel cancer sadly spread, but I didn't know that until I woke up after theatre and I was in theatre for about 9 hours. So, they thought they found it early, but sadly not, it was in one part of the bowel and spread to the other side.

She added: "I had a hysterectomy, two parts of my bowel removed, a stent to my bladder and I had to stoma bag...I woke up and had to get my head around all that”.

Bowel cancer is treatable and curable especially if diagnosed early. Nearly everyone survives bowel cancer if diagnosed at the earliest stage.

Late diagnosis significantly reduces the chance of successful treatment: statistically only 8% of patients diagnosed at advanced stage 4 will be alive five years after diagnosis.

Despite incidence rates remaining stable for 25 years, survival for people diagnosed with bowel cancer in the UK is poorer than in comparable countries.

UK statistics indicate that Wales has the lowest relative five-year survival rate, in comparison to the other UK nations.

The Moondance Cancer Initiative has an ambitious plan to reduce the number of deaths caused by bowel cancer to zero and change the landscape of bowel cancer diagnosis in Wales.

Overseen by Prof Jared Torkington, it recognises that radical new approaches are needed to achieve a 'step change' in outcomes.

“It comes after 18 months of working on a project that we've called Towards Zero Deaths and has involved engagement with patient groups and carers, professional bodies and people who work within the bowel cancer community across Wales." Said Prof Torkington.

“We know that there are things that can be done in prevention in terms of detection, diagnosis, treatment that we're not doing and we could do better. And so what we've done is we've compiled the evidence, we've compiled opinion, we've convened focus groups in order to put everything together in one document that says if we were to do everything, how low could we go in terms of reducing those numbers of deaths?"

The programme provides a space outside traditional organisational structures, where key partners can work closely in creative ways at an accelerated pace.

Rachel was on the representative board for the development of the paper.

“It was a fantastic opportunity offered to me just to see the amount the work has been done and how much it will actually change the bowel cancer rates, hopefully reducing and catching the cancers early." She said.

"The information and the research that has gone onto that report is quite extensive. So hopefully will change, it's consulted a lot of medical professionals and patients, so it's a fantastic piece of work which will help reduce those rates in Wales, which is much needed, especially shine the light on younger people, as well as to say lot younger people get diagnosed at a late stage.”

The Welsh Government has invested £16 million pounds as part of its strategy to help improve bowel cancer outcomes.

The FIT (Faecal Immunochemical Test) at-home testing kit is helping to improve screening uptake to 65% and has improved sensitivity to better detect those at risk.

More than 2,500 people were diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2019. Screening plays an important role in detecting cancer earlier and helps to improve cancer outcomes in Wales.

The lowering of the screening age is based on the recommendation by the UK National Screening Committee.

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We are committed to improving bowel cancer outcomes in Wales and it is promising that age-standardised survival and mortality rates have shown long-term improvements.

"We will continue to build on this through our national approach to improving cancer outcomes, including expansion of the eligible age range for the bowel screening programme and look forward to working with the Moondance Cancer Initiative on its recommended actions.”