Bowel cancer screening helped save my life

At Check4Cancer we strongly believe that cancer screening saves lives. Cancer screening is designed to detect cancers before symptoms appear, and when cancer is diagnosed early, treatment is often easier and more successful.  We were very moved when we received feedback from a woman who is 57 years old and who recently used her private medical insurance screening through AXA Health and Check4Cancer to test for bowel cancer.  The story is powerful, as apart from having blood in her stools once, she showed none of the other typical signs of bowel cancer.

Why did you choose bowel cancer screening?

I have private medical insurance with AXA Health and in December 2021 they were offering free cancer checks with Check4Cancer, bowel cancer screening (BowelCheck) being one of the checks that I chose.  What prompted me to select BowelCheck was that in November of 2021 I found blood in my stools, but it had only happened once, so I thought it would be a good idea to get it checked out, mainly for peace of mind.    

The BowelCheck at-home sample collection kit arrived in December 2021. With it being such a busy time of year and working in retail, the Christmas period for me is frantic, life got in the way and the bowel kit sat on my shelf and I put it off and didn’t send it back.

What made you take the test?

I’m extremely thankful to Check4Cancer who sent me a reminder email in January 2022 telling me that I had not returned the sample collection kit.  In January I sadly lost my friend to cancer, so taking the test and getting checked was really at the forefront of my mind. 

So, after the prompting email, I took the test and sent my sample back.

The results letter

I received my results letter from Check4Cancer not long after I had sent my sample off. My results letter stated that I had tested positive for blood detected in my stools and I needed further investigations.  I couldn’t really believe it as I had blood in my stools only once and I lead an active and busy life – I wasn’t really expecting these results.

I contacted AXA Health and they arranged for me to have an appointment with a consultant; the consultant then red-flagged me and I was booked in for a colonoscopy. *

What happened next?

Within a few weeks, I had a colonoscopy, and a cancerous tumour was found in a polyp.** The consultant told me that I had bowel cancer, I was devasted but knew whatever treatment I needed to have, I would have it, be it chemotherapy or radiotherapy, I was prepared.

The treatment plan

At my next appointment with my consultant, he told me that the polyp removed was quite large and the pathologist recommended that my consultant take out a piece of my bowel as the tumour was trying to spread. I was then booked in for CT scans and an MRI which showed spots on my liver, but thankfully no cancer.

I then had surgery to remove a part of my bowel and I was in the hospital for five days. I had a colostomy bag fitted to ensure that my colon could fuse and fully heal.  After a few weeks of practice, I was able to manage my stoma bag; my nurse thinks I’m doing really well as I was up out and about two weeks after my surgery.  I’ve been feeling good and have even been on a couple of holidays.

Whilst being told the news that I had bowel cancer and going through my treatment, Dame Deborah James was in the news a lot, raising money for her BowelBabe fund and receiving end-of-life treatment for bowel cancer. It really rammed home how lucky I was that I took the BowelCheck test and that my cancer was found early and was treatable and contained.  It is daunting to think of what would have happened otherwise.

The future

I’m going to have my reversal surgery for my stoma bag this Autumn and I’m living life to the full.

My consultant told me to pat myself on the back because I had been so proactive and had caught the cancer early.  However, the Check4Cancer team and AXA Health need the pat on the back and I’m so grateful that I received the reminder to take my bowel cancer test. I’m so grateful for the support I received as I have no doubt in my mind that if the cancer had been left, my outcome would have been very different.

Bowel Cancer – some facts

Over 42,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with bowel cancer (also known as colorectal or colon cancer) each year, making this the fourth most common type of cancer and the second biggest cancer killer.

Bowel cancer is most common in people aged 50+ with more than nine out of ten new cases being in this age group and six out of ten cases are diagnosed in people aged 70+2. There is an NHS bowel cancer screening programme in the UK, BUT it is only available to people aged 60 ***or above (50 or above in Scotland).  

What should you look out for, and what are the symptoms?

The same signs can also indicate other less serious conditions such as haemorrhoids (piles), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diverticular disease, infection, or inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis/Crohn’s disease). However, if you have any of the symptoms of bowel cancer listed below you should seek the advice of your GP immediately for further tests to confirm a diagnosis.

The symptoms of bowel cancer are:

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Reducing your bowel cancer risk with lifestyle changes

Did you know that more than 40% of all cancers diagnosed in the UK are attributed to lifestyle and environmental factors3 and that 42% of cancers in the UK are preventable?

For bowel cancer, 54% of cases in the UK are preventable. There is strong evidence that a diet high in red and processed meat can increase your risk of bowel cancer, so trying to reduce your consumption is therefore a great way to improve your health. The NHS has given guidelines on the amount you should eat per week. Alcohol, smoking, and being overweight or obese also increase bowel cancer risk.

There is also evidence to suggest that a diet high in fibre could help to reduce your bowel cancer risk as well as maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active.

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Getting tested with BowelCheck

BowelCheck is a Quantitative Faecal Immunochemical Test (qFIT) that looks for the quantity of human blood in the bowel motion following a simple and easy-to-use at-home collection system. This is different to other FIT tests as it measures the amount of blood and also includes a risk assessment making it more reliable than other tests. If positive, patients will require further investigation that will usually involve colonoscopy and a telescopic examination of the large bowel.

Other Bowel Cancer Resources

AXA Health has lots of bowel cancer information which you can access here.


* A colonoscopy is a test to check inside your bowels and is used to find out what is causing your bowel symptoms. It is a long flexible tube with a small camera inside which is passed into your bottom.

** Bowel polyps are small growths on the inner lining of the large intestine (colon) or rectum.

*** The NHS is expanding the bowel cancer screening programme in England to everyone aged 50+ over the next four years.