Bowel cancer sees greatest impact from early diagnosis

28 June 2019

Data released this month from the Office of National Statistics shows that people with bowel cancer would see the biggest increase in their chances of survival if they were diagnosed at an earlier stage, compared to other cancers. 

While all cancers would benefit from earlier diagnosis, bowel cancer, as well as kidney cancer, sees the greatest impact. Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis can increase the risk of bowel cancer in some people, particularly for those whose condition affects all or most of their large bowel.

The good news is that only a small number of people with Crohn’s or Colitis will develop bowel cancer and the numbers have been declining in recent years. 

People living with bowel cancer (also known as colorectal cancer) have an overall net-survival of 59.1% (the survival of cancer patients compared to the general population) for the 5 years following diagnosis. At stage 1 (the earliest stage) this is 93.4% and at stage 4 (the latest stage) this is 10.7%, showing that earlier diagnosis leads to better outcomes. 

Regular checks are recommended for people with Crohn’s or Colitis, particularly those at risk. The importance of this has been identified in the 2019 IBD Standards, which set out what good treatment and care should look like for people with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

The IBD Standards follow the patient journey which includes a section about ongoing care and monitoring. Within this, statement 7.8 specifically relates to screening, and says: ‘A mechanism should be in place to ensure that colorectal cancer surveillance is carried out in line with national guidance and that patients and parent/carers are aware of the process.’ 

This means that for people living with Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn's Colitis involving more than one segment of colon, screening colonoscopies should begin 10 years after diagnosis and be repeated every 3-5 years unless there are risk factors, such as a family history.  

It’s crucial that bowel cancer screening takes place for people with Crohn’s or Colitis who are at risk, as this data highlights the difference an earlier diagnosis can make. Whilst the symptoms of bowel cancer, such as blood in poo, tummy pain and fatigue are similar to those of IBD, it’s really important that people living with the conditions alert their doctor to any unexplained changes in their bowel habits and speak to their doctor if they’re concerned.

Wayne Lewis
Health Service Project Manager, Crohn's & Colitis UK

More information on bowel cancer can be found in our Bowel Cancer information sheet.