Across Scotland, around 4,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year. Of those, 1,500 tragically do not survive.

Cancer indiscriminately ruins lives and families. It affects not only those struck by the illness, but their loved ones, friends and colleagues. Like me, many people will have friends or family impacted by this awful disease.

Cancer comes in many forms and bowel cancer is now Scotland’s second biggest cancer killer. This shouldn’t be the case. Bowel cancer is not only treatable but curable, especially when diagnosed in its earliest stages.

So why then do so many succumb to this terrible illness?

The causes of bowel cancer are not always known. They may include lifestyle factors, genetics or even your environment. One certainty is that with age comes an increased risk.

Approximately 94 per cent of bowel cancer cases are diagnosed in people over 50, and 59 per cent in those aged 70 or over, meaning it’s important for people over 50 to contact their GP should they experience any symptoms.

I was shocked to learn that nearly four in 10 people cannot name any bowel cancer symptoms.

That’s why Bowel Cancer UK recently launched its ‘Be Bowel Smart’ campaign aimed at raising awareness of bowel cancer. In particular, the campaign is highlighting the five key symptoms:

Bleeding from your bottom and/or blood in faeces; a persistent and unexplained change in bowel habit; unexplained weight loss; extreme tiredness for no obvious reason; and a pain or lump in your tummy.

Knowing these symptoms is crucial in the fight against bowel cancer and could very well save your life or that of someone close to you.

It’s important not just to know the symptoms but to act on them. That’s why I encourage everyone who is eligible to engage in Scotland’s bowel cancer screening programme.

This has already been successful in securing early diagnoses and saving lives. It focuses on those aged 50 to 74, offering screening every two years and is straightforward. Just use the test kit provided to collect a sample to be screened by healthcare professionals.

From there, those with a positive result are referred for a follow-up and, if necessary, a colonoscopy.

According to Public Health Scotland, over two-thirds of those engaged with the programme returned their kit between 2020 and 2022 – the highest in the programme’s history.

However, for those in the most deprived communities, uptake and return of test kits was below the expected standard.

What makes this especially troubling is that in 2021 the risk of developing cancer was 30 per cent higher in Scotland’s most deprived areas compared to the least deprived.

I therefore echo the words of Dr David Morrison, firector of the Scottish Cancer Registry at Public Health Scotland, who urges “anyone who is offered a cancer screening test to take it, and if you are worried about your health – don’t put off calling your GP.”

The fight against bowel cancer is winnable. To do so we must help catch it early and, in doing so, save lives.