Supporting the crucial role of pharmacy in bowel cancer awareness

Claire Finlayson

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Every 30 minutes someone dies from bowel cancer, making it Scotland’s second biggest cancer killer. However, this shouldn’t be the case as it’s treatable and curable, especially if diagnosed early.

Building on the role of pharmacy as a first port of call, community pharmacy teams can play an essential role in supporting early diagnosis. At the forefront of healthcare, they are ideally placed to raise awareness of bowel cancer – in particular the symptoms and screening.

Join us. Take action. Because you can help save lives. Today.

To improve early detection, there are a number of ways pharmacy teams can work with Bowel Cancer UK. We offer free training and a range of accessible information resources that may be helpful to you. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Proactively raise awareness of bowel cancer symptoms in your pharmacy

How many bowel cancer symptoms can your pharmacy staff, customers and patients name? A shocking 31% of people in Scotland can't name a single one according to a poll of 4,000 UK adults.

Knowing the symptoms of the disease can help increase chances of an earlier diagnosis. The symptoms of bowel cancer include:

  • Bleeding from your bottom and/or blood in your poo
  • A persistent and unexplained change in bowel habit
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason
  • A pain or lump in your tummy

Most people with these symptoms don’t have bowel cancer. Other health problems can cause similar symptoms. If your customers or patients have one or more of these symptoms, or if things just don’t feel right, always advise them to see their GP. Encourage them to download and use our symptoms diary, a resource endorsed by the Royal College of GPs.

  1. Highlight the importance of taking part in screening

Bowel cancer screening saves lives. Bowel screening can detect bowel cancer at an early stage in people with no symptoms when it is easier to treat and there is a greater chance of survival. The test can also find polyps (non-cancerous growths), which might develop into cancer. These can easily be removed to lower the risk of the disease.

In Scotland, men and women aged between 50-74, and registered with a GP, are invited to take part in screening every two years. Quick and easy to use at home, the test involves sending just one small sample of poo.

Many people are still missing out. On average 58% of people living in Scotland who are sent the bowel cancer screening test for free in the post actually complete it, but this drops to 42% in some areas.

Take action today by highlighting and encouraging people to take part in screening. The advice of pharmacy teams can really help people understand the benefits of screening and drive forward informed participation.

  1. Learn more about bowel cancer and screening 

We’re looking to work with community pharmacy teams in Scotland. We have a range of options including the opportunity to organise a free training session or awareness talk for your community pharmacy team. Get in touch with Claire Finlayson, Senior Health Promotion and Training Officer or 0131 281 7351 to find out more.

  1. Order and display a range of free resources 

Our full range of health information publications are available to download and order at

Some of our most popular resources for pharmacy teams include:

  • Knowing the symptoms’ – an A4 poster which highlights the five possible symptoms of bowel cancer
  • The facts about bowel cancer’ – a handy credit card sized leaflet, ideal for pharmacy bags. This handy leaflet summarises the facts about bowel cancer, the symptoms to look out for and how to reduce your risk
  • Bowel cancer screening (Scotland)’ – an A5 flyer on the NHS bowel cancer screening programme in Scotland
  • How we can help you (flyer)’ – an A5 double-sided flyer that highlights the different support services available from Bowel Cancer UK
  1. Use social media 

Does your pharmacy have a social media account? Follow Bowel Cancer UK to keep up to date with the latest news and messages: Twitter @bowelcanceruk Facebook /bowelcanceruk Instagram @bowelcanceruk

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