Death of presenter George Alagiah sparks rise in searches for bowel screening in Wales

George Alagiah died from bowel cancer at the age of 67 on Monday. Credit: BBC

There has been an increase in demand for online information about bowel screening tests in Wales following the death of BBC presenter George Alagiah.

Every year more than 2,200 people across Wales are diagnosed with bowel cancer and over 900 people lose their lives.

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

Mr Alagiah's death from bowel cancer was announced on Monday 24 July. He was 67-years-old.

Tribute to the presenter came from BBC director-general Tim Davie said: “We are thinking of his family at this time.

“George was one of the best and bravest journalists of his generation who reported fearlessly from across the world as well as presenting the news flawlessly.

“He was more than just an outstanding journalist, audiences could sense his kindness, empathy and wonderful humanity. He was loved by all and we will miss him enormously.”

George Alagiah receiving his OBE from Her Majesty the Queen in 2008 for his services to journalism. Credit: PA Images

Alagiah spoke openly about the experience of living with cancer, during a Bowel Cancer UK videocast in 2020.

He said he sometimes felt he had the “easy part”, living with bowel cancer while his loved ones had to watch.

“In some ways I’ve felt through my six-plus years living with cancer that sometimes I have the easy part."

George campaigned for bowel cancer screening to be reduced to age 50 in England.

People aged between 55 and 74 years old registered with a doctor in Wales will be offered bowel screening every two years.

The screening age for Wales is 55 to 74 years of age.

Survival rates in Wales for bowel cancer are some of the lowest with just 8% of patients diagnosed at advanced stage 4 will be alive after five years.

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

What are the symptoms of bowel cancer?

People may initially experience vague symptoms.

However, anyone experiencing an unexplained weight loss, fatigue, blood in faeces, persistent change in bowel habits, pain or a lump in stomach area are advised to still get checked out by their GP.

With early detection at least 9 out of 10 people can survive bowel cancer.

So, who is eligible for bowel screening in Wales and how does it work?

Bowel screening looks for bowel cancer before symptoms show. Patients who have suspected bowel cancer will usually be asked to take a FIT (Faecal Immunochemical Test), which looks for traces of blood in the faeces.

People aged between 55 and 75 years old registered with a doctor in Wales will be offered bowel screening every two years. Bowel screening involves completing a home test kit, which looks for hidden blood in your faeces.

With early detection at least 9 out of 10 people can survive bowel cancer.

There is an initiative in Swansea to reduce the number of deaths caused by bowel cancer Credit: PA Images

What's the latest development in testing for those recovering from bowel cancer?

In February scientists offered blood testing to 200 patients in Swansea to check the disease has not returned. 

This was a UK first with leading cancer charities calling the development a "positive step" for those waiting for check-ups. 

Cancer Research Wales have funded the Raman Test being rolled out by the Moondance Cancer Initiative to achieved their ambitious plan to reduce the number of deaths caused by bowel cancer to zero.

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

Prof Jared said: “It comes after many months of working on a project that 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.

"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?"

Cancer Research Wales said: "Bowel cancer represents a major burden on the NHS in Wales and the number of cases diagnosed each year have steadily increased over the last 20 years."

It added: "Addressing the challenges posed by this increasingly common cancer is a real priority and research can help to provide some of the answers."

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