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The history of Bowel Cancer Awareness Month

Almost 43,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year

Image: Sky HISTORY / Bowel Cancer UK /

For Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, Sky HISTORY has partnered with Bowel Cancer UK to help raise awareness of the second biggest cancer killer that claims 16,500 lives in the UK every year. But what is the history of Bowel Cancer Awareness Month and how can you get involved?

Bowel Cancer Awareness Month

Bowel Cancer UK, Britain's leading bowel cancer charity has been campaigning to raise awareness about bowel cancer since 1987. Taking place every April, Bowel Cancer Awareness Month is a fantastic annual opportunity to fundraise and support Bowel Cancer UK’s important work.

Dr Lisa Wilde, Director of Research and External Affairs at Bowel Cancer UK, says: 'It’s inspiring to look back at the progress made in the treatment of bowel cancer since we started out over 30 years ago – the outlook is so much brighter today, with increasing numbers of people surviving the disease. We’re incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved with the help of our amazing supporters: successful campaigning for better access to treatments; expansion of screening programmes; funding vital research projects and providing information and support to the thousands of people affected by bowel cancer every year.

‘But there’s so much still to do to achieve our vision of a world where no one dies from bowel cancer. Bowel cancer remains the UK’s second biggest cancer killer, but we’re determined to change that. The disease is treatable if diagnosed early, which is why this Bowel Cancer Awareness Month we’re putting the spotlight firmly on the red flag symptoms to look out for. Knowing what to look out and contacting your doctor straight away if something doesn’t feel right really could save your life.’

Here’s everything you need to know about this important event.

1. It’s tackling a major epidemic

Almost 43,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year. In fact, the disease is responsible for the second-largest number of cancer deaths in the UK. Yet it doesn’t have to be this way, because bowel cancer is very treatable if it’s caught early enough. But what are the symptoms?

Unfortunately, many people are still unaware of the warning signs to look out for. One of the purposes of Bowel Cancer Awareness Month is to get the word out about these signs so that people can get diagnosed earlier and stand a far better chance of full recovery. The red flags you should know include:

  • Blood in your poo or from your bottom
  • Obvious changes in bowel habits
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Unexplained fatigue
  • Abdominal pain

2. Deborah James made a huge difference

Diagnosed with the disease in 2016 when she was just 35, Dame Deborah James became the ‘face’ of the disease in the UK. She proved to be a fierce, funny, charismatic campaigner, writing a book, F*** You Cancer, and co-presenting the BBC’s s You, Me and the Big C podcast. Her campaigning work was so effective that the NHS has directly credited Deborah for increasing the number of referrals for suspected bowel cancer.

What’s more, her ‘Bowelbabe’ charity fund has been hugely successful. At the time of writing, it has received more than £7.6 million in donations, which are going towards clinical trials and research into personalised medicine for cancer patients.

Deborah sadly passed away in June 2022, but her legacy lives on.

3. There’s a fun way to get involved

One of the key components of Bowel Cancer Awareness Month is the ActiveApril campaign. The concept is very simple: you simply register, get family, friends and colleagues to sponsor you, and then do something active every day for the whole month of April.

How you get active is up to you. One day you might just go for a bike ride, the next you might do burpees in the living room. You can download tools from the official ActiveApril site, including an activity tracker, sponsorship form, and images you can share on social media.

4. You can also become a volunteer

Another way you can take part in Bowel Cancer Awareness Month is by volunteering a few hours of your time to collect donations. You can register online to join the community of volunteers. Then, it’ll simply be a matter of getting to the designated collection point and greeting passers-by with a big smile.

5. You can spread the word to colleagues

There’s a great way to raise awareness among people you work or live alongside, thanks to the free online bowel cancer awareness talks provided by Bowel Cancer UK. Each talk lasts around 30 to 45 minutes and is delivered by trained volunteers, many of whom have been directly affected by the disease.

You can book a free talk that will be tailored to your business or community group of at least 20 people. Each talk will cover the signs and symptoms, the main risk factors, and how to undergo potentially life-saving screenings.

6. You can donate right now

Whether or not you watch talks, collect donations or get sweaty for ActiveApril, you can go ahead and make a donation to the Bowel Cancer UK charity anytime you like. Just follow this link and you can make a one-off payment to this great cause, or sign up for monthly donations that will make a real difference to people’s lives.