The good news about bowel cancer, is that current evidence suggests that 47% of the disease is preventable1, by attaining a healthy diet (high in wholegrains, beans and veggies and low in red meat and meat products), low alcohol intake (as low as possible), all sorts of physical activity (brisk walking, swimming, gentle jogs), and keeping trim. The bad news, is that few people seem to act on the evidence.

There are some obvious ways to pass on messages about bowel cancer prevention, such as within our national cancer screening programmes, or when someone gets a bowel investigation with a negative result. The BeWEL study2 demonstrated that patients with a colorectal adenoma (pre-cancerous lesion) were interested in lifestyle change, and indeed successful in changing their diet, physical activity, alcohol consumption and body weight (with improvements in blood pressure and blood glucose), but the results have not yet been implemented within the (health promoting) health services. In May, a new study will start in Dundee and Aberdeen, offering people with a family history of the disease, the chance to have a lifestyle coaching session to help achieve the ways of life associated with disease reduction. Yet, these opportunities to raise awareness about lifestyle and bowel cancer seem so inadequate, when UK statistics report that, in 2012, there were 43,043 people diagnosed with the disease, of which it is estimated that 20,200 might have been prevented3.

There were 43,043 people diagnosed with the disease, of which it is estimated that 20,200 might have been prevented.

Isn’t it time that charities who work hard to help patients with the disease, also extend their activities to disease prevention, and support the challenge of showcasing healthy lifestyles? Many organisations seek sponsorship for walks and alcohol free months; isn’t it time that the sponsorship challenge, is a programme that takes on all the relevant lifestyle behaviors, in other words, a “Bowel health for Better Health” package. If doctors and nurses and other health professionals who support patients also take up the challenege, then we have superb advocates for primary prevention who can also help improve wellbeing in patients with the disease. Surely, the challenge must be less than cycling South America or climbing Kilimanjaro, or is it?

Are there any charities, health professionals, families, patients, that might enjoy this challenge for improving their own health, and to build funds to support the excellent work being undertaken by bowel cancer charities?

– Annie

Professor Annie S Anderson BSc PhD RD FRCP (Edin)


1 World Cancer Research Fund UK Cancer Preventability Statistics http://www.wcrf-uk.org/uk/preventing-cancer/cancer-preventability-statistics 30th January 2015
2 Anderson, AS et al. “The impact of a bodyweight and physical activity intervention (BeWEL) initiated through a national colorectal cancer screening programme: randomised controlled trial” in BMJ 2014: 348:g1823. doi: 10.1136/bmj.g1823. Available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g1823 30th January 2015
3 World Cancer Research Fund UK Cancer Preventability Statistics http://www.wcrf-uk.org/uk/preventing-cancer/cancer-preventability-statistics 30th January 2015

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