Unclear why bowel cancer rates among young are rising in the West Country

A Taunton surgeon has said bowel cancer rates among young people are rising faster than other parts of the UK - and it's unclear why.

Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in the UK. Yet consultant colorectal surgeon Paul Mackey, from Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton, says it is people’s reticence to come forward that can lead to serious problems.

Mr Mackey, who features in a new film released by the charity The Bowel Movement, said: “People are reluctant to talk about their bowel symptoms and their toileting habits and that is a big issue.

"If you’ve got on-going bleeding, if you’ve got an on-going change in your bowel habits, you must come forward and be investigated. The rule is: Don’t sit on your symptoms.

"The rates are going up. They're going up by about 5% year on year. The rates of bowel cancer in young people under the age of 50 are going up faster in the South West than they are in other parts of the country. The reasons are uncertain - that's all still cause for further research and investigation.

Don’t Sit On Your Symptoms has become the title for the film, which can be viewed on the website of The Bowel Movement. The charity was created by Abby Morris, whose family home is in Frome in Somerset. She lost her brother to bowel cancer just before his 34th birthday.

Benjamin Millard was a fit man who went to the gym twice a day. By the time his bowel cancer was diagnosed he was told it was stage 4.

“On the face of it he was such a fit man,” said Abby. “When we heard the news it was devastating. It was so hard to believe.”

“It’s vital we challenge this misconception that young people don’t get bowel cancer. Early diagnosis is so important – and GPs have a big role to play in that.”

Emily Harrison underwent six months of chemotherapy following her diagnosis of bowel cancer Credit: Emily Harrison

Emily Harrison, a teacher from Bristol, was repeatedly told she was 'too young for bowel cancer' when she was displaying symptoms, which included chronic pain and bleeding from her bowel. Six months later she was diagnosed with higher stage 3 cancer.

Today Emily, who is now 40, said: “I remember that day so well. When I was having my scan the room just fell silent – but I could see on the screen it was a massive tumour. I kept asking: "Am I going to die….am I going to die’" And they just said: "We don’t know." It was such a scary time.”

Yet, after surgery and gruelling chemotherapy, the mother of two embarked on a challenge to climb Kilimanjaro. “I just wanted to show cancer hadn’t beaten me. I just wanted my children to be proud,” she said.